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Business News/ News / Business Of Life/  A bedtime math story

A bedtime math story

Reading your children bedtime stories that have an element of math improves their performance in the subject in school

Bedtime Math and Tinybop offer educational apps.Premium
Bedtime Math and Tinybop offer educational apps.


When our son was young, my wife and I would read to him every night before he went to bed. We loved the time spent with him. This delightful ritual continued till he learnt to read himself.

A study by children’s book publisher Scholastic, released earlier this year, says that you should continue reading to them even after they have learnt to read. They like it.

When we read to him, we chose a story because we thought he would like it, because it was fun. Often he would choose the story that he wanted read out to him. None of the stories had a deliberate educational purpose: There were no dates to remember, lessons to learn or numbers to add and subtract.

Now, a study by the University of Chicago in the US, published two weeks ago in the journal Science, says reading your children bedtime stories that have an element of math improves their performance in the subject in school.

So if you have young children and are anxious about their mathematical skills, this could be what you are looking for. Even if you yourself have a bit of math anxiety and are not comfortable with numbers.

For their study, the Chicago university researchers used an app called Bedtime Math that posts a daily math-related bedtime story to its users. Three years ago, Laura Bilodeau Overdeck, who holds a bachelor’s in astrophysics from the US’ Princeton University and a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, set up the non-profit Bedtime Math (www.bedtimemath.org) “to make math fun for kids".

The app packs the stories with nice sound effects. You can download the free app, get your daily story, and read it out to your children at night. The app is meant for parents and children to use together.

To give you an idea of the stories, here’s a recent one called “Letting The Cat Out Of The Bag".

“What does it mean when people ‘let the cat out of the bag’? It means the truth came out, usually about something someone did wrong. They say it comes from farmers selling pigs hundreds of years ago. Pigs were worth a lot of money, but cats weren’t. So when handing over a live piglet in a thick bag, sometimes a sneaky farmer would slip a cat in there instead. But then he had to hope the cat didn’t pop out and ruin everything before the farmer ran away with the money."

For each story there are three levels of questions: for “wee ones", “little kids" and “big kids". So the pig-and-cat question for “wee ones" is: “If the cat and pig fall asleep at 2pm and nap for 3 hours, will they be up in time for dinner at 6pm?" And this one for big kids: “A domestic pig can weigh more than 700 pounds! If this one weighs just 400 pounds and the cat weighs 10 pounds, how many cats would have to pile up to match the pig?"

To someone not afraid of numbers, these are fairly simple questions. The Chicago university study shows “a marked increase in math achievement among children whose families used Bedtime Math" app. It says the math performance showed an improvement even in cases where parents read to the children their favourite bedtime stories six days of the week, switching to a story from Bedtime Math on just one day.

And while we are talking about educational apps for children, do check out this website called Tinybop (www.tinybop.com), which makes amazingly elegant apps that have won several awards. I have never seen a more beautiful learning app than The Human Body and The Earth created by them. They have released just five apps, and each one of them is a piece of art.

In its Digital Toys series, Tinybop has an app called The Everything Machine ( 190) which lets a child use the tools built into your phone—such as the battery, camera and speaker—and create some very imaginative apps. It uses a visual programming language that enables the user to drag and link the various tools so as to make the phone perform some interesting tasks. I downloaded it purely for its design.

Shekhar Bhatia is a science buff and a geek at heart.

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Published: 20 Oct 2015, 09:19 PM IST
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