Which Bird is Closer to Home?

Which Bird is Nearer to Home?

Children, please open your Math-Magic Books and turn to page 6.

Now which bird is nearer to home? 

Child points to brown bird.


Shows with finger the path from the bird to the tree.    Both bird and tree are slightly in the background.  The bird has a slightly lost expression, but seems to be headed towards the tree.

Showing the lavender bird, “What about this one?”

Child points to the brick house and says, “that is not the bird’s home.”   This bird is headed straight for the neatly thatched roof of the brick house.

* * * * *

Above is what actually happened one day, years ago, when I brought out the Math-magic book and looked it over with my daughter.  I could have gone on to show that even if we were talking trees, the lavender bird is also closer to the trees.   But that would have just been contrived, as if I was trying to get the answer expected by the book.   And it is not even entirely clear that the lavender bird is closer to the tree in the background – even if on paper the linear distance is less, the perspective in the drawing suggests that one tree is further from the viewer than the other.  Same with the birds.  Which tree is home to which bird?  We don’t know.  The drawing does not give us this information.  In retrospect, it also seems likely that in judging “close to home” she looked not only at the scalar distance, but also at the direction in which the bird was travelling.   It may be near the tree, but if it is flying towards the mud house, then it is closer to home than another bird which is actually flying towards the tree?

What is clear (to the experienced worksheet user) is that the textbook intends for us to recognize the thatched-roof house as the “home” and is asking which bird is closer to that structure.  The “right” bird is aiming for that roof with a bright expression.  The “wrong” bird” looks lost and far away.  At least these are the clues that must have indicated to me which bird we were expected to circle.  I did not take into account the depth in the drawing nor ask where the bird made its home.  Only because our answers differed did I examine my thoughts at all – had she circled the lavender bird, I suppose we would have forged ahead to Tick (✓) the Cat Farther from the Tree.

Since I asked why, rather than moving to “correct” her, I learned something about perspective – in drawing and in our relationship with nature.

Tick the Cat Farther from the Tree

Tick the Cat Farther from the Tree

Images from Math-Magic Class 1 NCERT Textbook, page 6. Accessed online.