The Texture Of Things

WFMW: Sidewalk Chalk Numbers

November 1st, 2006


The sidewalk in front of my house is made up of thirteen concrete squares. How do I know this? Why, I’ve numbered them, that’s how.

Indeed, I’ve gone through a lot of sidewalk chalk keeping those little buggers numbered all summer and fall this year, but there have been several payoffs. Here’s what works for me about this:

First, the tot is fascinated by numbers and letters and makes me draw them for her repeatedly until I think my head will burst. (She’s two. Whaddya gonna do?) Her goal is to step on each number and say its name, so when I draw them on the sidewalk, she’ll burn about a million calories walking up and down the numbers endlessly.

Second, she gets a lot of numbers practice going up and down the sidewalk, both counting forward and backward. Its fortunate that I’ve got thirteen squares, actually, because she needs more practice with thirteen. Without the visual prompt, she’ll count to twelve and then say, “sixteen, sixteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.” She’s doing really well with counting backwards from ten now, too, and can do it spontaneously.

Third, frankly she loves it when we draw with sidewalk chalk, but really. My creativity gets tapped. How many caterpillars, balloons, smilies, bunnies, and shapes can I draw before both of us get bored with them? Then, I can always refresh the sidewalk numbers and off she’ll go, giving me a minute to stand up and give my back a break.

Fourth, it keeps her on a part of the sidewalk and driveway away from the street, which I’m terrified she’ll run into since she doesn’t stop on command.

Last, it buys me a break. This is no exaggeration: she is capable of spending over 45 minutes traipsing up and down the sidewalk, but only if there are numbers on the squares. (Occasionally she’ll allow letters.) I can lazily follow her, snap photos, pull a weed or two, chat with our neighbor, or contemplate just about anything while she plods away. She is happy to do it with me or by herself (with me in view), and that makes the effort of drawing the numbers worth it.

But wait! That’s not all!

You don’t have to be an artist. I have drawn plain numbers and outline numbers. I have drawn big ones and small ones. I have added the spelled out numbers below them. I have had to scratch out mistakes and color in goof ups. What seems to matter to the tot most is that they are always there or are easy to put there again and that we do it together.

Sidewalk chalk is a healthy part of your complete sensory diet:
*The dusty texture is unique. It is not a typical solid and it is not soft, though it leaves residue on your hands.
*Drawing with chalk teaches cause and effect. Draw all you want on the pavement, sure, but when you run out of room and crawl across your drawing to open pavement, you smear the existing drawing and get smudges on your clothing.
*Drawing on different surfaces yields distinct sensations in your hand. Grooved concrete like my sidewalk makes the chalk vibrate differently in my hand than when it glides across the relatively smooth asphalt of my driveway.

Certainly, this activity is based on having a regular space to draw safely, so what ways could it be adapted to other situations? Anyone?

(Hop on over to Rocks in my Dryer for about a billion more great ideas!)

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