The Music Man

How one young mother used the lure of “The Music Man” (ice cream truck) to teach her kids math and keep her sanity all summer long.

When I was a young mother, we lived in Southern California. We could go to the park for picnics, visit the beach and spend a lot of time outdoors year-round. I especially enjoyed summers with a more relaxed schedule– except, for Tuesdays and Fridays around 1:00 p.m. That’s the time I would gather my little brood into the house where we’d stay in the back bedroom and read books. It was also the time the “Music Man” would show up in our neighborhood.

For several years, I was able to convince my kids that this sweet man was just riding around entertaining the neighborhood with his musical treats. That is until one day when my father-in-law came over to help with some painting.
“Mom,” the kids started to yell, “Grandpa just bought ice cream from the Music Man!” Uh oh, my cover was blown!
No more hiding in the back of the house! The kids wanted to buy something from the “Music Man.” At first, I let them, and they soon learned just how quickly their money disappeared. Then they begged for mine, but I refused to pay 50 cents for a popsicle that would cost a dime at the grocery store. At the same time, I was having trouble finding motivation for the children to practice their musical instruments, to continue reading through the summer and to get out and exercise. So that’s when I came up with an ingenious plan that worked for the next 10 years.

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We visited the grocery store together and chose four different boxes of ice cream treats, which I paid for. I had them sit down with the receipt and do the math—$1 divided by 12 Popsicles = $.08 a popsicle. Six drumstick ice creams bars for $2.25 came out to be $.38 a treat (much better than the $.75 charged by the “Music Man.”). They wrote the individual cost of a treat on each box and put them all in the freezer. I got a canning jar and put it out on the counter.

Here were the rules: After chores were done, a half-hour was spent practicing their instrument, they read for a half- hour, or did some form of exercise, they could BUY a treat. They didn’t even have to ask. One treat per day. Just deposit the money in the jar. It worked well. Chores were done early, books were being read and very little nagging was needed for practicing or going out for bike rides. When the treats were almost gone, we would take our money from the jar, add it up (more math) to see how much we had to spend, and return to the store.
Occasionally when they were getting along well, I would announce, “Mom’s treat, have a free ice cream,” and I would put the money into the jar.

My children are all grown and have children of their own. I haven’t heard the “Music Man’ in many years. I was visiting one of my daughters last summer and happened to get into the freezer for something and was so delighted to see a box of Fat Boy’s with a price written in black marker and a canning jar on the counter filled with dimes and quarters. I guess the tradition carries on!


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