Bedtime Math

At some point in the last several decades, people began to realize that reading to their children was a great way to help their children learn to read. “Read to your kids at bedtime!” experts and educators exhorted, and still exhort. And it works. Kids who are read to at home have more success in school, and higher literacy rates.

We’ve discussed the idea of how nice it would be to have a similar practice at home, and we’ve been playing around with how to make games and puzzles part of families’ everyday mathematical practice. The only thing we agreed on was that doing math before bed probably wouldn’t work too well: it would excite the mind rather than relax it. When I do math too late, I slip into insomnia all too easily. Plus, it’s nice to be sharp when you work on a puzzle, rather than tired.

Well, we may have dismissed math at bedtime too quickly. I just got an email from a friend referring me to Bedtime Math, a website that supplies math problems to pose to your children at bedtime. What about the difficulties of doing math late at night? Replied my friend:

My older daughter will do anything that can push her bed time out by a few minutes :)

Maybe this whole Bedtime Math concept is worth trying after all. It’s getting press right now in a big way, which is great, and if it works for kids, it’s a wonderful way to incorporate a little bit of math into your day. If anyone with kids tries this, I’d love to know about your experience of it.

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5 Responses to Bedtime Math

  1. I have been mulling over this while reading with my lovely 4 year old. There are occasions when it is natural: (Spoiler alert for future Madeline readers) Madeline and her 11 friends end up each have a dog, how many dogs then so are there? I spared her the definition of bijection. And she’s very picky about “next to” being a symmetric relation but not a transitive one. She knows that 5 is bigger than 3 but tires of it – she likes talking about math but in context.

    But there are few books that promote this way of thinking – she’s just lucky to have the mathematical golden ticket of having a parent who likes to daydream about such things and takes pleasure in talking about them. She’s not quite ready yet for the site above…

    Related to this point, I respectfully disagree with the implicit causation claim of bedtime reading => success. I think the association there is quite complicated but when it enables parents of children from privileged backgrounds to say that their, albeit sweet and sincere and hardworking child, earned the spoils of life then a complicated analysis all too often gives way to a cosy consensus. I confess that I do not know of any analysis of this claim where class and educational background are factored in so the argument I would make is more qualitative than quantitative.

    Thanks for sharing the above. I’m a lover of math4love; sorry to be a long-winded fighter on one of the assumptions above.

  2. Erik says:

    Oh, thanks for the link! Andrew S. has been pestering us for math problems to think about each evening. He liked Zeno’s Paradox but I couldn’t remember too many more. This looks helpful! We’ll let you know how it goes.

    How is the book in the picture?

    • Dan says:

      The book in the picture is a pretty good book for kids. Fun stories about mathematicians, told in a quasi-fairy tale style, almost, if that’s the right way to describe it, but more historically accurate.

  3. James says:

    I think it’s not a bad idea. My daughter loves to read before going to bed. And her favorite subject is math. She loves solving math problems before sleeping. I think it became her habit.

  4. My girls were early readers, but I kept reading to them for years after they could read. I read all kinds of things to them–including math books–anything that held our collective interest. I remember reading aloud the book pictured above in your post, as well as Flatland, Petr Beckman’s A History of Pi, Maor’s To infinity and beyond, Constance Reid’s From Zero to Infinity: What Makes Numbers Interesting, and much more (both mathematical and non-mathematical).

    I love to read aloud and I still read aloud to my husband at night, and currently it’s a math book, Math Girls, reviewed here: http://blog.tanyakhovanova.com/?p=410 and here http://mathmamawrites.blogspot.com/2011/11/math-girls-novel-way-to-learn-some-deep.html.

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