For many parents with young children, the bedtime routine is a firmly entrenched system involving a warm bath, a good book, a kiss and a hug. Toying with that equation borders on sacrilege, but Laura Overdeck thinks it’s time to make room for a math problem alongside the nightly story.
In February, the high-tech consultant-turned-stay-at-home mom launched Bedtime Math, a website devoted to creating the sort of cachet for arithmetic — before the final tuck-in — that reading has. “You hear so many people say, I’m just not good at math,” she says. “But you never hear people say, I’m just not good at reading.”
Overdeck began by emailing about a dozen friends a word problem with varying levels of difficulty, ranging from calculations appropriate for their preschoolers to upper-elementary students. Within a week, her list of subscribers had tripled. Nine months later, 20,000 people have signed up to receive the free daily emails. “It’s just exploded,” says Overdeck.
That’s heartening news for educators who bemoan the state of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in the U.S. In 2009, American teens ranked 31st place in math and 23rd in science, behind Asian powerhouses Japan and China and European countries including Poland and Slovakia in a global skills survey.
Bedtime Math isn’t the only program trying to turn the tide. Let’s Play Math encourages mathematical game-playing. Living Math extolls the beauty of arithmetic to parents and teachers. Math for Love offers professional development for teachers on how to spice up their approach to numbers and introduces kids — including my own — to the joy of math. For a parent whose palms grew sweaty just walking into geometry class, realizing that math could be something other than anxiety-provoking was nothing short of groundbreaking. “Through games, math becomes something that kids do for fun and not some awful arduous task,” says Math for Love co-founder Dan Finkel. “Our goal is to change the culture around mathematics.”
Read more: Time