I love research and statistics, which is a funny statement coming from a self-proclaimed math–phobe. But I do. Recently, I’ve been looking at statistics showing how the “summer slide” affects students who don’t have access to books over June, July, and August. They lose critical reading skills, especially low-income students—who typically backpedal more than two months in reading achievement during the summer, while their middle-class peers make slight gains, according to the National Summer Learning Organization.
When it comes to numbers, students lose more math than reading skills over the summer, slipping an average of 2.6 months of their grade-level equivalency in computational ability, according to researchers at Duke University’s Talent Identification Program. Economics make no difference: “Whether you are a low-income child or a high-income child, you lose math knowledge or skills at the same rate over the summer,” says Catherine Augustine, senior policy researcher for the RAND Corporation, which released a 2011 study on the subject.
While thinking about this, I recently stumbled upon research showing that math skills at kindergarten entry are a better predictor of school success than reading skills or attention span. Math? Yes, math.
“Math is a part of everything,” Diana Pecina, director of
partnerships for the organization Bedtime Math, said to me at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting,
held in Philadelphia from January 24–28.
Launched last February, Bedtime Math posts a math problem daily with three levels of questions: wee ones, little ones, and big ones. The questions all refer to one story and progress in difficulty. Parents can sign up for a daily math riddle via email. There’s also an app and two books by Bedtime Math founder Laura Overdeck—Bedtime Math (Feiwel & Friends, 2013) and Bedtime Math 2: This Time It’s Personal (Feiwel & Friends, 2014). Pecina said that Overdeck got the idea for Bedtime Math after giving her children a simple math problem before bed. When her two-year-old started hollering for his own math problem, she knew she was onto something.
Last summer, Bedtime Math partnered with the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP) to offer a math tie-in called “Summer of Numbers.” Families use “math reading logs” to track when children answer a math riddle from the site, and these can be turned in for an incentive prize at participating libraries—similar to summer reading programs offering small incentives when a child reads a book. Libraries can find supplemental activities on bedtimemath.org, including a “Pajama Party” kit geared towards kids ages three to nine with fun math games and activities such as “monster dominoes” and “twisted tangrams.”
Some libraries use the Pajama Party as a summer reading kickoff event and host math-based fairs. Because Bedtime Math uses riddles and simple stories to integrate math skills with language, the site is also building literacy skills. “Math will never be the same,” the site claims, and perusing the site’s riddles did bring a smile to my face. I might need to reconsider my math phobe status after all.
School librarians will find information geared toward them on Bedtime Math, such as a program launching this month called Crazy 8s, a nationwide after-school math club for “recreational math.” The club will be available via a free eight-week kit; to sign up and receive more news, email email@example.com.
Which brings me back to the summer slide. I hope your library already has plans for a summer reading program, with a separate club for younger “read to me” patrons. Why not offer a side of marvelous math as well, either through Bedtime Math or on your own? Cooking activities (lots of math in recipes), tracking local sports team statistics, or simply posting a math riddle to a bulletin board in your department each week are simple ways to find the everyday math all around us. Host your own Pajama Party with math-based stories. Brainstorm, and the ideas will all start adding up—no pun intended.