Cass and I sat around the dining room table yesterday counting money. A statutory requirement for KS1 Year 1 is to “recognise and know the value of different denominations of coins and notes”. As we counted, we talked about monetary value. The intent of the conversation for me was to assess whether she knew the value of different coins and notes, but our conversation quickly spiralled much wider.

First there was the obvious – what’s the point – question. ‘By the time I’m a grown up,’ I was aptly informed, ‘there won’t be any paper money or coins. I’ll just pay with my phone like when we’re in London. It’ll just be tap – ticket paid – tap – dinner bought – tap for a cup of tea – tap at all the shops. The only thing real money is still good for is the bus to Salisbury (despite advertising that contactless is awesome and available, some bus drivers still frown and say ‘cash only – I don’t know what you’re trying to do with your phone’) and car boot sales. I agreed that being able to use contactless for everything – even car boot sales – is probably the way things will go sooner than we think – but in the here anf now, learning the value of different denominations of coins and notes are still part of the school curriculum.

‘Okay,’ she said, ‘then I have some questions’. First there was a list of cost questions ‘How much did it cost to go on the tube from Borough to Charing Cross?’ she asked, ‘I heard the standing tickets at the Globe cost £5 – how much did the balcony tickets cost?, then the more interesting questions followed – ‘The Tate Modern and the Natural History Museum was free, but there were donation boxes in the Lobby. At the Tate, the box recommended £4, but at the Natural History Museum I didn’t see any recommendation, how do I know how much money to donate? Should I donate money every time I went in, even if it’s just for a few minutes and shouldn’t I donate different amounts depending on how long I spend there or how much I enjoy it?’

Finally, we discussed the cost of public transport – considering things like early booked rail tickets are quite inexpensive and London’s daily or weekly capping of fees – compared to the cost of travelling by car. At the end of our discussion, she looked over at her beloved soft toy, Panda, who had helped to count the 20p coins because they’re tricky – and she said ‘If  I sold Panda at a car boot sale (turning to Panda – don’t worry, I will never ever sell you, I’ll still have you even when I’m a grown-up), I’d get maybe 50p for him, but Panda is worth a lot more than that to me. Is monetary value all that matters?

Needless to say, the rest of the conversation was very different. I had planned to talk about different currencies, instead we talked about what the word ‘value’ really means. We came to the conclusion that value is the measure of how important something is to you. If she lost Panda and had to buy him back, she would spend all her money without hesitating, but another boy or girl would maybe pay 50p because Panda had been snuggled so much his soft fur was gone and they probably wouldn’t really want a toy that’s almost used up.

It made me think about how we educate our children. I remember hating mathematical word problems as a child and despite moving to a different hemisphere, I’ve discovered that 30 years later my daughter is still being taught in the same way and she’s hating it just as much as I did. It’s a surreal place where bicycles cost 62p, children buy multiples of pens, ice-creams, lollipops or chocolate buttons and the real world is buried underneath obscurity. She doesn’t understand how completing one-step money problems is going to help her in real life.

“The Thames Clipper you were on cost £6.40 for a single adult ticket using contactless to pay”,  I said. “A child’s ticket cost half the price of an adult ticket. You went to the London Eye, then you went to Embankment to catch an open top bus and the next day you went from the London Eye back to near the hotel. If you were paying for your own tickets, how much of your money would you have spent?” She worked it out.

I then asked her to think about her first journey – was £3.20 worth the experience of going on a Clipper for the first time ever? ‘So worth it!’, was the reply. I then asked her to think about it on the second day – where she was exhausted and the alternative was a 25 minute walk – ‘so worth it!’ – she said. I then asked her at which point her answer would change. She said if she wasn’t tired and had done it before, walking instead would be a more sensible choice. Her face lit up – “there’s the Frozen Yogurt bus en-route and a small frozen yogurt cost £3.50 I think? If I walked instead of taking the boat, I could spend the money on a mango frozen yogurt with blueberries on top! I’d only have to spend an extra 30p and that isn’t much money at all.”

I smiled at her. ‘That’s how math helps you in real life,’ I said. ‘And it keeps me alive,’ she added, ‘if I couldn’t carb count I think my Type 1 Diabetes would have killed me by now.’ Life is so much bigger than one-step math problems.