JusJoJan Day 15: Threeteen, Fiveteen, and the Twenty-Seven Piece Puzzle

Jottin’ my way through January!

Hi there! Can you believe we’re nearly at the halfway point of January?

I’ll admit, when I decided to do this jotting thing, after an intense two months of marathon novel drafting, I really didn’t know how many words I’d be able to come up with, or what I’d write about – or who would even find it interesting, for that matter! Linda’s ten-day prompts have been extremely helpful, because a few minutes of brainstorming gives me a list of topics that my subconscious (which is very active!) can play with while I go about the business of living and doing the other stuff that entails…

Okay, so today’s post is supposed to delve that mysterious threeteen and fiveteen – but, once again, I appear to have subtracted all the coffee from my cup, so, if you;ll excuse me for just a few minutes, I’ll go take care of a simple addition process, and tend my fire, because it’s c-c-cold in this part of the world today!

I’m back – didja miss me?! There’s a cozy fire snapping in the wood-stove, and a fresh hot cuppa beside me – so no reason not to dig into today’s subject, right?

When my son was about 3, and learning to count, he objected strenuously to the words ‘thirteen’ and ‘fifteen’. He insisted that they ought to be ‘threeteen’ and ‘fiveteen’, instead – and he had a point. Eleven and twelve never bothered him – my guess is that they were too far from their ones-plus-tens state -but he was so adverse to thirteen and fifteen that, when he counted, he just skipped straight over those two numbers, so that his version ran, “eleven twelve fourteen sixteen… “and so on.

At the same time, he was very interested in jigsaw puzzles, and spent considerable time working them.

Egg-samining a different type of puzzle, but at about the right age.

One day, after solving a puzzle and pulling it apart again, he combined his puzzle love with his new counting skill, and decided to count all the pieces in his puzzle.

His total was 27 pieces. He then asked me to count them; my answer was 25.

He counted again, and so did I, with the same results.

The third time he counted, I realized what had gone wrong.

I showed him the puzzle box, which said there were 25 pieces in his puzzle. Then we counted together – and, when we got to ‘threeteen’ and ‘fiveteen’, he refused them, and so we skipped them, and got 27.

So we counted again, and I said, “Let’s do it my way, this time,” and we counted all the numbers. Yup. 25 pieces, exactly.

Maybe it’s in moments like this that mathematical concepts get absorbed. It certainly clicked for him, in that instant. He could see, for the first time, that it mattered whether he counted all the numbers, if he wanted to know how many of something he had. And, maybe more importantly, he could see WHY.

He had skipped two numbers, and his total was off by two numbers!

From that point onward, he always counted his ‘threeteens’ and ‘fiveteens’ – yes, those names lingered for several more months, until he reconciled himself to the illogic of their proper ones.

Today, that little boy is a strapping ‘threeteen’ year old – as big as me, and with a deeper, almost-man’s voice. Long gone are the days of refusing to count numbers, or doing 25 piece puzzles on the kitchen table.

Yesterday, we were exploring the quadratic formula together. But all the mathematical concepts he’s learned since that day of the 27-piece puzzle have hinged on that moment of first truly understanding that numbers are tools, and how to use them.

Do you remember when numbers began to make sense to you? To your children? Do you have a story to share? We’d love to hear it!

Don’t skip on by the other mathin’ Jotters!

Same boy, almost ten years later, at ‘threeteen’.


  1. I remember trying to explain to my mother (when I was about 5 or 6) that “thirty two” shouldn’t be “32,” but rather “30 2.” She didn’t get it. She kept telling me, no, that’s “three hundred and two.”
    Strange the silly things I remember from my childhood. 😛

    • I totally understand your perspective! I even think I agree with you!

      I don’t think it’s silly. I think it’s insightful, and I’m glad that you remembered it. =D

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