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Parents who are uneasy about their own math skills often worry about how best to teach the subject to their kids.
Well ... there's an app for that. Tons of them, in fact. And a study published today in the journal Science suggests that at least one of them works pretty well for elementary school children and math-anxious parents.
A team from the University of Chicago used a demographically diverse group of first-graders and their parents — nearly 600 in all — across a wide swath of Chicago. One group got to use an iPad app called Bedtime Math, built by a nonprofit with the same name. (The app is also available for Android, but we're told most used the iPad version) The no-frills app uses stories and sound effects to present kids with math problems that they can solve with their parents.
The control group was given a reading app with similar stories but no math problems to solve. The results at the end of the school year?
I reached out to University of Chicago psychology professor Sian L. Beilock, one of the paper's lead authors, to find out more.
I read to my child all the time. But I don't read bedtime math stories. After reading your study, maybe I should?
Our study suggests that doing Bedtime Math with your kids can help advance their math achievement over the school year, and this might be especially important for parents who are a little bit nervous about their own math ability.
That's me! How big an increase and what kind of improvement did you see when kids used this iPad app?
We compared kids who used the Bedtime Math app that involved reading stories and doing math problems with their parents to kids who did a very similar app that didn't have the math content. We showed that when kids frequently used the app with their parents, those who used the math app were three months ahead in terms of math achievement relative to kids who just did the reading app.
Your team found that the app worked even better for children whose parents tend to be a bit anxious or uncomfortable with math?
Many adults in the U.S. and around the world profess to be uncomfortable or anxious about math. Oftentimes dealing with your kid around math can be a nerve-wracking experience — whether it's homework or just talking about it. We found that doing this Bedtime Math app with kids was especially beneficial for those kids whose parents tended to be the most nervous about math. In essence, these kids grew significantly throughout the course of the year and looked like kids whose parents weren't anxious about math by school year's end.
And you saw improvement even in children who used the app with parents as little as once a week?
Yes, it was somewhat surprising to us that such little use would have such important benefits. One of the ideas is that we think that when parents get comfortable with talking with their kids about math — it doesn't have to be complex math problems, it could be anything from shapes to even counting — they likely engage in math talk even when they're not using the app. And we know that parents who talk more with their kids about math — whether you're counting out the number of cookies or counting the minutes to bedtime — those kids tend to achieve at higher rates in math.
Bottom line for you: A little bit of math can go a long way, at least in terms of this one study's findings?
That's exactly what we're showing.
There are a lot of apps out there. Why'd you choose this app in particular? What was special about it?
There is certainly a billion dollar education app industry out there. What we've realized in our initial work is that a lot of it isn't based on research. It's unclear what the benefits are. In fact, there has been some research that shows that apps with lots of bells and whistles can actually be detrimental to kids' learning because it distracts them. We base our investigations on learning science.
We've shown that, when parents interact with their kids and talk with them about math, that really impacts what kids learn. We were interested in this because it really is a no-frills app, an easy way for parents to interact with their kids, to talk with their kids about math. It's not an app that they use by themselves. And we thought that that potentially had promise in terms of what math knowledge kids gained.
I admit I'm kind of a math-anxious parent. But when doing stuff like woodworking, I try to incorporate a little geometry and basic measurement whenever I can. "Hey, let's measure this again! Twenty-four inches — how many feet is that?" It's a fun way to sneak a little bit of math in.
And to realize that math is part of everything we do, and math is not something scary or that one should be anxious about. And it's really healthy to try to incorporate that into daily life. And often, as you said, parents think about reading bedtime stories, but there is a place for thinking also about bedtime math.
Culturally and socially, it seems we don't think about math as integral a part of parenting as reading. And few adults would say, "I'm not so good at reading." But many people say, "I'm not so good at math." And somehow that's socially acceptable.
Yes, in my book, Choke, where I talk about stress and performance, I mention how you don't hear people walking around bragging that they're not good at reading. But very intelligent people brag about not being good at math. And it turns out that that anxiety and social acceptability has implications for our nation's success in math and science fields. And it's really important that we as parents and teachers and adults try to convey to our kids that math is something that's (a) enjoyable and (b) learned. You're not born a math person or not; it's something that's acquired. And every time we talk about it and we integrate it into our daily lives, children may see the importance of it and that math is not something to be fearful of.
Where do you think some of that math anxiety comes from?
Math anxiety comes likely from lots of different places. Previous work that my group has done shows that teachers who tend to be anxious about math affect their kids' perceptions of math and what they learn across the school year. We also know that when parents are anxious about math they can transfer that to their kids, especially when they're helping a lot with math homework. We tend to point to the schools to be the source for math knowledge. But kids spend lots of time outside of school and get lots of information from parents and from other adults. So being cognizant of how we talk about math and how we integrate it into our daily lives is important — both inside and outside the classroom.
Did you see any improvements in the parents' math ability by any chance [laughs]?
Ha, well, that's a really interesting question. We are just looking into those questions now. You can imagine that for parents who have a fear of math or less than optimal math training, it might take more than one school year to move the needle for them. But we are seeing improvements with their kids. And that's a first step. And we will be looking (in future studies) at how parents think about math, how they do in math, and most specifically their attitudes when interacting with their kids.
So there is hope for me?
There is hope for all of us! And, as you said, integrating these sorts of counting and math activities into daily routines is a great way to socialize both kids and their parents to the benefits of math.
Anyone who's played with Lego knows you can build amazing creations with those clicking bricks. But artist Sean Kenney has taken this toy to the wild side. He makes giant animals of Lego that almost look real, they're so colorful and perfectly shaped. This 5-foot-wide peacock uses more than 68,000 pieces of Lego! His spotted leopard uses 31,000 pieces, and yet another sculpture, a polar bear and her cubs, uses a whopping 125,000 bricks. Sean has been building these animals for 10 years, which might be why he now owns more than 4 tons of Lego. The heaviest animal he's built weighs 400 pounds all by itself. Click here to see more of Sean's chunky critters -- and if you have a chance to build your own creation, try weighing it on a scale, just to see how big Sean's statues must be.
Wee ones: If the mama Lego polar bear has 3 cubs, how many bear family members did Sean build?
Little kids: The peacock tail uses 3 shades of blue, 4 shades of green, a grey and a brown. How many colors is that? Bonus: If you stack a blue piece, then a green, a grey, and a brown, then start over with blue to repeat, what color is the 13th piece?
Big kids: If Sean owned exactly 4 short tons of Lego, how many pounds would that be? (A short ton has 2,000 pounds.) Bonus: If you build your own Lego anteater, and the number of bricks is halfway between the 32,000-piece leopard and the 60,000-piece butterfly, how many pieces do you use?
Wee ones: 4 polar bears.
Little kids: 9 colors. Bonus: Blue.
Big kids: 8,000 pounds of Lego. Bonus: 46,000 pieces. The other two animals are 28,000 pieces apart, so yours is 14,000 more than the leopard and 14,000 less than the butterfly.
And thank you Sean for letting us share your incredible pictures!
More Ways to Get Bedtime Math!
If you like to read, you'll love the three Bedtime Math books! Written by founder Laura Overdeck, they dish out madcap math with wacky illustrations by Jim Paillot. Available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most other bookstores -- check them out here!
Facebook: One more way to get your daily BMP fix. If you're on Facebook, please like us and help spread the word about Bedtime Math!
And on the reading side of the equation -- Here are a couple of great columns from the blog katywrites:
THOUGHTS ON MOTHERHOOD, WRITING FOR KIDS, AND RAISING READERS.
There seems to be such a rush these days for kids to read more, better, faster. Under pressure from parents, teachers and peers, kids as young as first grade have declared picture books to be “for babies” and would much rather be seen checking out early chapter books and graphic novels.
I have brought up the THREE BEARS RULE in previous posts, and I’ll remind you of it now. Kids should always have books available to them that are
— too hard
–and just right.
This lets them practice the literacy skills they have mastered, develop new skill sets, and simply enjoy the experience of reading without challenge – all important parts of growing to love books. Picture books that don’t seem “babyish” help reinforce this for older readers. As a parent or teacher, you can give your older reader this opportunity by
1. Never belittle a reader’s choices. Don’t say “isn’t that book too easy for you?” or “why are you reading a little kids’ book?”
2.Provide opportunities to explore picture books with big kid appeal. At the library or book store, be on the look out for picture books with themes your child enjoys, higher word counts, and more complicated stories. Books of legends and folklore, traditional fairy tales, picture book biographies, history and other nonfiction often fall into these categories. What Do We Do All Day maintains great booklists for folktales from many cultures and countries. Also check out this great Nerdy Book Club post Top 10 Picture Books for the Secondary Classroom.
3. Let big kids read aloud to younger kids: Using their voices in fun ways to make a book more interesting to their audience also makes it more fun for them – and improves their understanding of the text. Read more ideas in my Partner Up post.
4. Check out books that have won prizes for illustration: Your budding artist will appreciate the different styles and techniques more now than (s)he did as a preschooler – and might just be inspired to try some illustrating of his own. (Leaving you with peace and quiet for a few minutes). The American Library Association has a complete list of the Caldecott Winners and honor books from 1938 to present day here.
Read the rest of this wonderful column HERE.
Last week I talked about making certain your children – your mini-me’s and imitators extraordinaire – see you reading. If you missed that post, please check it out here. There is no better way to make reading important to children than for them to see their role models reading.
So once you are modeling good reading habits for the kids, how do you make sure they feel comfortable picking up a book and enjoying it? Here are some great tips to help., for kids of any age.
1. Make interesting books easily accessible. I know that seems self-evident, but take a minute to think about your home, your friends’ and family’s homes. Are age-appropriate books kept in places the kids can see them? Reach them? Are they as easy or easier to access than toys and electronics? This can be as simple as spreading a few kids’ books on the coffee table or as elaborate as creating a kids’ reading area (more on that later).
If all your baby’s books are on a high shelf in her hutch, she thinks of them as “don’t touch” or “bedtime” objects. If the blocks are in arm’s reach, but the books are not, your 3-year-old will choose the blocks. If there’s an awesome book about Star Wars or a magazine featuring disgusting World Records on the media console in the family room, maybe your teen will read it before (s)he turns on the TV. It’s that simple.
2. Associate reading with friendships and fun: For the toddler to preschool crowd, have your child help select a book to share with a friend during a play date, or to take along when you meet up with friends. Be ready to involve all the kids in the story – asking questions about what’s happening and what might happen next. Think of ways to include the book in playtime after reading. (See my earlier post about this topichere.) Or plan to attend a children’s story time at a local library or bookstore.
For older kids, meeting up with friends at the bookstore or library can be a lot of fun, too. Skip the story time and let the kids prowl together to find the topics that interest them. Consider getting books your child likes (especially from a series or about a favorite topic/band/sports figure) for his/her friends at birthdays. I can’t tell you how much time my 8-year-old spends discussing Magic Puppy with her friends! Also consider activity books your child can do with friends when they play together. Some great ones include Star Wars Folded Flyers by Ben Harper and Klutz or Fashion Design Workshop by Stephanie Corfee (both available at Amazon and elsewhere).
My winter book basket
3. Get thematic: I like to rotate books by season and theme to combat boredom. In the fall, there is a whole box of books about apple-picking, Halloween, and Thanksgiving that comes out. When winter rolls around, those books get put away and a large basket with a red bow comes out, filled with holiday and snow themed books. Ask your librarian to help you find good reads to fit any theme you like to learn about and have the kids help decorate a box to match. Try changing book selections with your decor and you’ll see your kids getting excited about the “new” options year after year.
4. Make a spot where kids love to read: Harper Collins did a great spread just the other day with pictures of adorable reading nooks. You can check it out here. But you really don’t have to be that elaborate. Each of my 3 girls has a chair that suits their style, in a quiet spot, with a bookshelf or basket nearby. A corner of a closet with a soft pillow, box of books, and a stick-up light works just fine for some. Others like a pop-up tent, window seat, or desk. (Desks are especially great for kids who combine reading with art or writing.) Make the spot personal, comfortable, and free of distracting noises (or siblings!)
5. Think of the Three Bears: Reading experts will tell you that it is good for children to have books with a range of difficulty – some a little too easy, some slightly challenging, and some just right – on hand at any time. Your child’s teacher can help you determine their “just right” level, and many companies such as Scholastic have rating systems or age levels on their books. Your local or school librarian can also help you choose the right difficulty levels.
6. Get the picture: Many older kids still like picture books, but won’t admit it to their friends. Try some with more complex themes, like Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. Series of graphic novels – like BabyMouse and Diary of a Wimpy Kid – have also become increasingly popular. Don’t let the illustrations fool you – some of these have advanced themes and vocabulary.
Kids of all ages can appreciate more varieties of pictures and art than you’d expect. Look for books and magazines featuring photography, line drawings, or lush landscapes, as well as the typical picture books you remember from childhood. My children love National Geographic Kids magazine for its amazing nature photography, as well as cute pics of pets doing silly things. A new series of chapter books, The G.G. Series by Marty Mokler Banks features awesome sports photography by Alisa Harper. And at FlavorWire you’ll find “The 20 Most Beautiful Children’s Books of All Time.”
7. When you must, use the hype to your advantage: Nickelodeon, Disney, Mattel, ESPN…they have all invested huge amounts of time and money into getting your kids to love their characters. If your kids are passionate about a show, toy, movie, or sport, and you can use that to facilitate their love of reading; then I say go for it. But beware, some of the books based on shows/toys/etc are NOT well-written. Use some discretion and check out other parents’ reviews before buying. CommonSenseMedia.org is a great resource for reviews of all things TV/movie/game related.
I hope this helps all you parents in your efforts to raise children who love to read! A friend posted this to my Facebook page earlier in the week, and the sentiment is so perfect, I just have to share it:
Here’s to helping them find the right books!
Read more great columns at: