By Adam Klasfeld
“I was one of the worst math students in school,” says Ben Bendor, but today he helps children across the country learn how to improve their arithmetic skills. His show, Arithmetickles, teaches children between kindergarten and 2nd grade to recognize numbers, shapes, and patterns; 3rd through 5th graders how to handle multiplication and solve problems; and 6th through 8th graders how to ease into more advanced equations. Every show involves audience participation, mime, comedy and special effects. In the show for middle school students, Bendor performs magic tricks onstage, and reveals the mathematical formulas that he uses to achieve them.
He created Arithmetickles ten years ago with his wife Sandra as a way to help their daughter with her homework. They began to explain certain concepts to her in images. For example, in order to help her understand negative numbers, they told her to imagine herself in the elevator of a building. If it is on the third floor and it goes down four flights, they are in the basement–or the negative first floor.
“By reaching a kid’s mind through games, you can do anything,” Bendor notes. Teachers have been so taken by his methods that many have written letters to him, claiming they use his methods in their classes.
The company that presents the show, The Children’s Theatre Center (CTC), has been active for about twenty years. Their first production was an adaptation of the Guy de Maupassant short story The Necklace, but it was a difficult to “sell” French literature. Most schools were only interested in welcoming theater companies that taught core curriculum classes like history and science. CTC found its niche in mathematics, and the company has visited schools in twenty-two states with this popular show. When the new year rolls in, the show is moving away from the east coast to visit schools in California.
Arithmetickles rarely has performances that are open to the public, because academic titles generally don’t draw the kids. Once they enter a school assembly to watch the show, however, most of them find themselves hooked. The show’s website (www.arithmetickles.com) features testimonials from enthusiastic students, teachers, and administrators, as well as study guides, videos, free DVDs, and a touring calendar. You can also find booking information to bring the company to your child’s school or library.