Math for mental health

Unlike many of his friends (and his own brother), my younger stepson, Sklyar, 23, has been very conscientious about social distancing and avoiding gatherings during this last year. All but one of his friends has come down with COVID. Sklyar on the other hand has remained physically healthy. But as an extrovert, this isolation has had a real negative effect on his social-emotional well-being. Over time, his dad and I have seen him become more and more glum, quieter, and withdrawn. The boys live at their dad’s house, while we live at my house about 35 minutes away (that’s another story). So every couple of weeks during the pandemic the boys have come over for dinner and a game or movie.

Skylar is extremely competitive and usually comes alive when playing games, but even our game nights haven’t brought him the same joy as before. Last night when the boys came over, I decided to show him a TikTok video I thought he’d like because he also loves math and is quite gifted with numbers. The video shows a clever trick for multiplying 11 times any three-digit number. I have to admit, it’s pretty cool. For whatever reason this little video drew him in and he wanted to try it himself. In just a few minutes, Skylar said he could extend the trick to four-digit numbers. He tried it. I tried it. It worked! The next thing I knew we were stitching our own video with the original, high-fiving, and laughing. After that we we started trying it with five-digit and six-digit numbers. It might not have been a typical after-dinner family activity, but it was pure joy to see some of the spark back in Skylar again. Another sign of better times to come.

9 thoughts on “Math for mental health

  1. This is so neat. Im am not a whiz with numbers, but I do enjoy seeing how you can play with them. I have taught my students the multiplying two and three digit numbers by 11. They thought it was a neat trick.

  2. I enjoyed your written description of Skylar as his mood shifted. So glad you led him to joy! And you never know- finding joy while finding surprising structure in math might lead him on to more and more math discoveries.

  3. It hurts your soul to see the joy being drawn away from those you love. On the flip side, it fills your soul to see that joy coming back. What a great way to bring back some joy, in a rather different way! 🙂

    Thank you for sharing today! 🙂

  4. My mood shifted just reading your post about his mood shift! Thank you, thank you for sharing. Like another slicer said, I’m not a math whiz, but I do love seeing the manipulation of numbers. I’m super inclined to try this out! 🙂

  5. I. LOVE. That. Trick. I first learned it while reading Hans Enzensberger’s The Number Devil. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but it is REQUIRED reading for anybody who loves and appreciates the poetry of math. As for the planned family activities, that can go by the wayside if the alternative brings you so much fun and joy.

      1. I’ll have to check it out. As a kid I struggled mightily with math. It wasn’t until I took “Math for Teachers” that I started to appreciate it!

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