Purpose for every stage and age

?There is no other time in a woman?s life when she needs to be quite as smart as when she is looking after young children.??KATHERINE ELLISON, AUTHOR/JOURNALIST

This column was originally published in Septem?ber 2009, when my oldest daughter was in fifth grade. It seemed appropriate to repeat it as my youngest heads into fifth grade this year. Their math skills have grown. Mine, not so much.

Raising kids is anything but boring. It?s so rewarding when my daughter looks up at me from her math book and says, ?I don?t understand this. Can you help me??

I smile knowingly, give her little head a pat and lean over to scan the open page. Why not? I?ll give her a leg-up, walk her through the first couple of?whoa, wait a minute. Number theories? Prime and composites? What the?? She?s in fifth grade, right?

Now it?s all coming together. I get it. Fifth grade is a math test. Just one more in a string of other tests I?ve been given. Infancy was a sleep-deprivation test, toddler-hood was a patience test, kindergarten was a separation anxiety test. The tail end of elementary school, mathematics from what I would guess is the equivalent of my seventh-grade experience.

If I pass, I get to move on to (cough) algebra. All these years after basic skills tests have been tucked deeply into my long-term memory, I have to dig around and drag them all out, dust and all. People who consider themselves ?math types? seem to enjoy the fact that there?s only one right answer; the exact reason I don?t. There?s no room for interpretation.

Where?s the fun in that?

I?m freely admitting my ignorance. If I were to transfer my mathematical skills onto some sort of chart, there would be two problems. One, I don?t know that I could compile a legitimate mathematical chart. And two, if I could, I would get bored a few columns and rows in, which means I would never finish it. Forget the chart.

Let?s just say I don?t think in those terms. It?s too early to tell if my daughter will share my opinion. She doesn?t jump all over her math with vigor and enthusiasm, but she seems to grasp it (so far). I hope it comes easier to her.

On the other end of things, they thankfully still semi-balance it out with a little recess and a sliver of art and music. Michael Jackson was recently their composer of the month. I know the controversy around him stands and we?re all tired of hearing about it, but it was fun to get on YouTube with my daughter and watch the Smooth Criminal lean again. If the rest of the class was as fascinated with his musical career as she was, then it was one productive month in that classroom.

Last school year, she would constantly relay facts about the artists they studied in art class. One of her favorites was Georgia O?Keeffe. This past weekend, I ran across a Lifetime movie about her life. Because my daughter introduced me to her art, I decided to watch. It was good.

Who knew I would discover something new during my second trip through fifth grade, nearly 30 years after round one?

Once again, these kids we?re raising remind us there?s a lot left to learn. And relearn.

Shelley Plett is a graphic designer for the Free Press and Kansas Publishing Ventures. She can be reached at shelley@hillsborofreepress.com.