With back-to-school stresses piling up, Laura Overdeck wants to let children and parents in on a little secret: math can be fun. Really.
Overdeck is on a mission to change the way Americans think about math — especially given that math anxiety has been tracked in kids as young as age 5. This is what inspired her to create Bedtime Math, a nonprofit that sends out a daily email with a math problem tailored to “wee ones,” little and big kids.
Bedtime Math has been very successful in both Verona and Cedar Grove.
“Families signed up for the program and got calendar of summer months and stars. They can go online and have math problem delivered every day,” said Cedar Grove Youth Services Librarian Natalie Cheetham. “They put a star on the calendar for every day they complete a math problem.”
“We participated for the summer months but if I would definitely be interested in continuing through the school year,” she said. “During the summer we must have handed out over 20 calendars.”
Overdeck is a Westfield native who now lives in Short Hills. She is an astrophysics graduate and MBA, but her love of math started long ago, by helping her mother measure ingredients while baking and her father, a hobbyist carpenter, calculate angles. Math was comfortably rolled into everyday life; flash cards and workbooks were never a part of her childhood.
She explains, “My mom was an English teacher — but she liked math and knew she could do it. For women and girls in particular, that makes all the difference. There’s a whole generation of moms out there who don’t like math, and it becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. My goal is to enable parents who are uncomfortable with math develop kids who really excel at it.”
When Overdeck and her husband, a mathematician, had their first child, they naturally started incorporating math into their daily activities as a family but also into their nightly bedtime routine. By the time their third child was two and started clamoring for a math problem, Overdeck realized that they were onto something.
Lest you worry, the math problems aren’t pre-calculus for the preschool set; they’re fun, sometimes silly, verbal problems involving animals, sports, vehicles and more (and don’t worry, parents — the answers are provided, too).
Since launching in late February with an email list of around 20 or 30, Overdeck now has about 15,000 subscribers, and the list is growing daily. A book is in the works, as are plans to expand the group’s current work with local libraries and Boys & Girls Clubs.
“When the children signed up for the summer reading club we asked if they were interested in Bedtime Math,” said Verona Library Children's Librarian Cheryl Ashley. “We gave out 40 calendars out of the 50 we were given.”
“I personally think it is a great program. As libraries promote reading, this company promoted math skills all summer long, which was great,” she said. “Statistics have shown that when kids don't read over the period of a few months and go back in September they are behind, I think the same would hold true with math skills.”
Here’s a recent email offering, "Taking Its Toll":
With August a peak time for summer travel, you might be spending more time in the car than usual – and more money on traveling. One sneaky cost is the tolls we pay on many major highways. Every time you drive some number of miles, you reach a row of tollbooths where you have to pay up for driving on that road. You can either throw coins into a basket, or in some places you let a magnetic card on your windshield signal that it’s you and that you need to be charged. Either way you have to pay, but you can get creative with the process – and can also get in trouble.
Wee ones (counting on fingers): If the toll needs 4 quarters, and you get to throw one in yourself from the back seat window, how many more quarters does the driver need to toss in?
Little kids: If you try throwing the coin out the passenger-side window and over the car to see if you can land it in the basket, and of the 12 coins you throw on a trip, only 8 make it in, how many coins end up on the ground? Bonus: If you get better with practice and your next 9 coins land in the basket, how many coins in total have made it into the basket?
Big kids: If you drive too fast through a toll, it won’t be able to charge your magnetic card – but it might snap your picture and mail you a ticket. If your trip requires $6 of tolls, but you speed through and get a $42 ticket for not paying them, how many times more expensive did your trip become? Bonus: If you drive the 6 miles between tollbooths in only 5 minutes, did your average speed exceed the speed limit of 65 miles per hour?