Try saying “We’re real rear wheels” 10 times fast — or even just twice. Not so easy, huh? It’s a tongue twister, a set of words that’s tricky for your tongue to say, and gets trickier to say as you say it faster. Try saying “sixth sick sheep” over and over really fast, or even “world wide web.” But it turns out these words slow down more than your tongue. Scientists timed people reading quietly in their heads, and found that we even read tongue twisters more slowly than regular words! Our brains trip up just thinking out the sounds; we just notice it more when we say them out loud. So next time someone tells you to sell seashells at the seashore, or tie twine to three tree twigs, tell them to tell you again much faster, and soon they’ll stop trying to tell you to do anything.
Wee ones: How many words do you say in “We’re real rear wheels”?
Little kids: If you have 2 cars with 2 real rear wheels on each, how many real rear wheels do you have? Bonus: Now try saying “Sixth sick sheep” over and over fast. If you get 6 sick sheep twice, how many sheep do you have?
Big kids: Now try “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.” If all 6 sheiks each have 6 sick sheep, how many sick sheep do they have in total? Bonus: Now try saying “11 benevolent elephants” over and over fast. If you have 56 animals in total, how many sets of 11 elephants and 6 sheep must you have?
Wee ones: 4 words.
Little kids: 4 real rear wheels. Bonus: 12 sick sheep.
Big kids: 36 sick sheep. Bonus: 4 sets of elephants and 2 sets of sheep, for 44 + 12. There’s no other set of 11 that is a multiple of 6 away from 56.
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.