June 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Bedtime Math Battles Summer Slide in Both Math and Reading | First Steps

SLJ140301w-FirstStep_MathI 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 crazy8s@bedtimemath.org.

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.

Lisa G. KroppLisa G. Kropp is the youth services coordinator at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in Bellport, NY.

This article was published in School Library Journal's March 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Am I the only one who is noticing the glaring misspelling of a lot in the headline? Really? Please tell me it is the way my computer is displaying the article and not written this way.

  2. Sarah Bayliss Sarah Bayliss says:

    We noticed it too–and fixed it! Thank you.

  3. This interdisciplinary approach plays such a huge part in a student’s skill retention – making sure that both math and reading get some attention during the summer months is the best way to prevent learning loss. The ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program provides great workbooks that make practicing reading, math, and writing fun and accessible. The program hits on the idea of doing math for fun, encouraging students to call on their skills outside of the written workbooks through supplemental ‘playground study sessions’.

    Check out their program for ways to make summer learning easier and more productive! http://bit.ly/1kEleNh

    [FULL DISCLOSURE: I don’t work for ThinkStretch, but I help with their digital.]

  4. Could you share the source of this research?
    “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.”

  5. Susan Madden says:

    Very clever ideas! Can you edit the June 2nd/3rd grade Math calendar so it prints on one page? I will definitely be using this over the summer. Thanks!

    • Susan Madden says:

      I’m sorry… I think I posted this on the wrong web site. Please disregard.