Stuff We Like: Bedtime Math

Posted: Wednesday, June 19th, 2013


Can you imagine if your kid handed you a book at bedtime, and you shrugged and said, “Sorry, I’m just not that good at reading”? It sounds ridiculous, but somewhere in the world right Bedtime Mathnow, there’s a kid asking a question that has to do with numbers, and a parent shrugging and saying, “I’m just not that good at math.”

I admit it. Those words have entered my mind, if not crossed my lips. I’ve got a dad who’s a mathematician, and up through high school I loved math. I even considered becoming a math teacher. But math is like a muscle—stop using it and it atrophies.

That’s why when a new book called Bedtime Math landed on my desk, I couldn’t help but take a peek. The concept is simple: what if math became as much a part of the bedtime routine as reading? Laura Overdeck, the book’s author, wants kids to feel about math “the way they feel about dessert after dinner.” For a year, she’s been serving up a playful daily math problem for parents to do at bedtime with their kids. I’m not talking paper-and-pencil math. I’m talking exploding food problems, slimy subtraction, and skateboard launch comparisons.

Next week, libraries and bookstores across the country will be kicking off a national pajama party where kids do crazy activities, all powered by math, in an effort to tamp down the anxiety many Americans feel about the subject.

Before you go hide under your bed, consider this: “Who’s going to cure cancer, build a better iPhone antenna, or develop cheap, clean energy if kids aren’t excited about math and science?” Overdeck says.

Clearly, the time to interest kids in math is now. Whether you’re game to throw your own pajama party, or just want to get your feet wet, here  are six ways to sneak a little math into your nighttime routine:

1) Go for a Guessing GameOne of the most important pieces of math fluency is number sense. Try a game of 20 Questions where numbers take center stage.

2) Tire Kids Out Before BedThe long days of summer mean there’s plenty of light, even when bedtime draws near. Put the kids in pajamas, then write a series of numbers on the driveway in chalk. For young kids, call out a number and have them dash to it. For older kids, call out an equation, like “2+2” or “6 x 3” and see if they can run to the answer.

3) Break Out the Cards. Dust off a deck of cards and have a game before bedtime. From working on estimation to basic math facts and strategy, it’s all in the cards.

4) Introduce Some Zip: Give your kids several pieces of thin cord or string (each 10 feet or more), a rubber band, a paper clip, a measuring tape, a stopwatch and at least one small, brave stuffed animal.

  • Wrap the rubber band around the stuffed animal’s torso and hook the paper clip through it on the animal’s back. Thread the string through the paper clip, and he’s ready to ride!
  • Put the animal on one end of the string and have one person hold that side of string 3 feet off the floor, while someone else holds the other end of string taut to the ground. Let the animal go, and time its ride to the bottom. Now lift the starting end a foot off the ground and measure the new height, then time the new ride. Did the animal go faster or slower?  Try different heights, or set up multiple zip lines and let them race!

5) Play with Your Food: Find out how ratios affect your favorite trail mix. It all begins with six large bowls containing dry ingredients like Cheerios, sunflower seeds, pretzel sticks, raisins, semisweet chips and mini-marshmallows.

  • Give each kid 4 empty paper cups, which each kid fills with four favorite ingredients. Using measuring spoons, measure how many spoons of each ingredient they have in their cups.
  • Ask the kids to measure ingredients into a Ziploc bag, to create their own mix. Here are the rules: they must put 2 spoons of their first ingredient and 2 spoons of their second ingredient, for each spoon of ingredient 3 and of ingredient 4. Ask your kids to guess which ingredient will run out first.

6) Add Some Good Measure: Give each kid a popsicle stick, a spoon, a rubber band, a pencil and a marshmallow.

  • Hold the spoon back against the popsicle stick. Wrap the rubber band several times around, about 1/3 of the way from the tip of the spoon handle. Stick the pencil between the two at the halfway mark. Now, when you squeeze the scoop of the spoon against the stick and let go, it should snap back out, launching your marshmallow into the air.
  • Get out a tape measure, or use your body to measure! Measure how far a marshmallow travels when you launch it straight ahead from 2 feet off the floor, and then 5 feet. Try launching it at angles towards the ceiling, and see if it flies farther. Try putting thicker objects between the spoon and popsicle stick, so the catapult snaps harder, and measure your marshmallow’s flight again!

Make it a habit. If, like me, you’re short on inspiration, sign up for Bedtime Math’s free problem of the day. (, or browse our math activities for more ways to make math practice seem like less of a chore. And most of all, stop saying you’re bad at math — whether you’re wearing pajamas or not.

2 Responses to “Stuff We Like: Bedtime Math”

  1. Dante Smith Says:

    Hello Danielle

    I really loved your latest post on “Stuff We Like: Bedtime Math”. I have gone ahead and added “” to my Flipbaord. Keep writing awesome stuff, and I will keep reading it.

    Thanks again,

    Dante Smith

  2. Charmain Mclennon Says:

    Glad to read posts like this.

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