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Bedtime Math: Counting Sheep and Pennies

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For Women & Co. by Laura Vanderkam, LauraVanderkam.com

You read your kids bedtime stories most nights. But do you ever give them bedtime math problems instead?

A New Jersey-based non-profit hopes you'll start -- because getting comfortable with math early is the key to doing well in math later on, says Bedtime Math founder Laura Overdeck. Every day, her non-profit sends out an email with fun word problems for preschool to elementary-aged kids. Here's a recent one for preschoolers: "If there are eight planets in total -- since Pluto sadly got kicked out of the club -- and 4 of the planets have rings, how many planets don't have rings?"

Early elementary student could ponder this one: "While Neptune has three rings, so does Jupiter, and Uranus has 13 rings. How many rings do they have all together?" It's also a great way to introduce kids to the idea of saving money -- after all, every penny adds up.

"We've already built a magical culture around bedtime stories: We all know we should read to our kids, and as parents we get such fulfillment from seeing our children enjoy that," says Overdeck. "We simply have to get the ball rolling with math in the same way." Told by parents in a loving manner and puzzled through together, a bedtime math problem can be just as cozy as a story, plus it's a great opportunity to squeeze into your schedule a little extra tutoring. "If kids discover early on that math is a fun, significant element of the beauty of the world around them, they will enter school with really positive preconceived notions. That has to leave them more open to learning."

Once you've infused math into bedtime, try these suggestions for putting math into daily life.

While baking: "Doubling recipes requires multiplying; halving a recipe requires dividing," Overdeck says. "At a more basic level, kids love counting out chocolate chips." And eating them!

While counting the piggy bank: Count money with your kids. You can practice multiplication -- what's 20 pennies or quarters times their value? Why is a pile of 10 dimes more money than a pile of 10 pennies?

While playing: "Lego and other building toys revolve around numbers," Overdeck says, "and are awesome for weaving both numbers and spatial thinking into playtime."

While planning: "Any time you serve anything to a group, you're using numbers," says Overdeck. "If you're buying party favors that are all sold in different quantities -- 10 in one pack, 24 in another, 18 in a third -- how many packs do you need for your guest count, and how many of each item will you have left over? Even putting out breakfast or dinner involves measuring and counting."

While exercising: "Kids love stopwatches, and watching the seconds tick off gives them great exposure to counting," says Overdeck. "Competing on jumping jacks, push-ups, or consecutive kicks of a soccer ball can get numbers and counting into the picture." Plus, kids will burn off energy, so come bedtime they'll be awaiting their nightly math story.

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