Monday: How many squares on a checkerboard?

Quarantined with your kids?
Here’s the first of five days of lockdown lessons that also sneak in some valuable life truths.

I’m a fan of lessons with layers. For example, enjoying a rainbow with your kids can lead to lessons on refraction, the color wheel, Noah’s Ark, and God’s faithfulness (Genesis 9:12-13). Riding a tandem bike can lead to discussions about teamwork, leadership, balance, decision making, and even how we need to invite Christ to join us on the road of life, not just relegating him to the back seat, but offering him the front seat, handlebars and all.

Digging through some of my favorite books for parents, I have identified five life lessons you can share with your kids. Each of them comes with a bonus layer. Commit to this idea and you might find yourself in a weeks worth of conversations that later makes you recall this uncertain season with a surprising fondness. Here’s today’s “lessons with a layer.”

Monday March 23, 2020

Ask any kid — from 1st grade through high school — “How many squares on a checkerboard?”

It’s a great chance to teach them the rhyme “Eight times eight fell on the floor. I picked it up, it was 64.” But, of course, if they say, “64,” you’ll want to wonder out loud whether there might be an even better answer. Then point out that the entire checkerboard is a square. They may roll their eyes. Or they may say, “Okay. 65.” Then ask, “Are there any other squares?”  Pause for their response. Then say, “Maybe squares that are two by two?”  “Squares that are three by three?”  “Four by four?” “Five by five?”  “Six by six?”  “Seven by seven?”

The actual total is a whopping 204.  And, yes, many of the squares are a little tricky to count because there are eight different sizes and they all overlap.

Here’s the math:
64 squares are 1×1.
49 squares are 2×2.
36 squares are 3×3.
25 squares are 4×4.
16 squares are 5×5.
9 squares are 6×6.
4 squares are 7×7.
1 square is 8×8.

With any brainteaser, dad, the goal is never to make your kids feel stupid. The goal is to empower them to see how they can approach a challenging question from different angles. The answer “64” is not wrong. Creativity trainers promote the idea of “looking for the next right answer.” Express that concept to your child and if their eyes light up with curiosity, give them examples. 

Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before finding the right filament for the light bulb that would burn for 1200 hours. 

Henry Ford had a vision for a more efficient way of building motorcars. Instead of a factory floor where small groups of workers built one car at time, he invented the moving assembly line. The Ford factory was soon producing one car every 93 minutes. He made cars affordable to the general public and doubled the minimum wage for his workers. 

French philosopher Emile Chartier summed up the perils of settling for the first right answer when he said, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have.”

So there you have it. A simple six-word question becomes a lesson in counting, multiplication, “looking for the next right answer,” perseverance, and philosophy.

Mom and Dad, don’t forget to use this lesson later. Next time your kids face a creative conundrum, encourage them to look for the “next right answer.” That could be a short story idea for language arts, a theme for a party, a gift for grandma, hair styling, face painting, snowman design, scarecrow making, or selecting a science fair project. Always give an initial dose of acknowledgement and praise to the first solid idea they come up with. But then challenge them to invest additional time to see if there’s a better way. A totally new way! A way that only they could think of!

Let me know how it goes. And expect another email from me tomorrow. Okay?
(And please forward this to other parents in the same situation!)

Be well,


illustration by Geneva’s own Rex Bohn

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