Bedtime math could be as beneficial as a bedtime book

Could bedtime math be the new bedtime book?
Could bedtime math be the new bedtime book? Photo: Getty Images

Bedtime reading is probably a key part of your nightly routine - so why not bedtime maths? New research suggests it might just be something worth considering – especially if you're a little anxious about maths yourself.  

A team of researchers from the University of Chicago tested an educational intervention, The Bedtime Math App. The app's mission is simple: to make maths a fun part of kids' everyday lives, as beloved as the bedtime story." 

If you're nodding off at the very idea of maths at bedtime, stay with me. The theory behind it actually makes a lot of sense.

"Children's emerging language skills are supported when their caregivers read to them at home," the study authors write. "Maths skills, however, are often relegated to the schools."

To bring maths from the classroom and into the home, nearly 600 first-grade children took part in a study published in the journal Science

The children were assigned to one of two groups: a maths group or a reading group. Kids in the maths group read a maths story book with their parents and answered corresponding maths questions, delivered by the iPad app They did this several times a week over the course of the nine-month school year. The remaining families used a reading app.

While the reading and maths app passages were similar, the reading passages had no "numerical or spatial content."

Each child's maths achievement was assessed at two time points: at the beginning and at the end of the school year.

The researchers also assessed "maths anxiety" in parents via a questionnaire used to determine parents' tendency to feel "tension, apprehension, or fear in mathematical situations."

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And the results are truly thought provoking.

The researchers found that more frequent use of the maths app was associated with higher maths achievement at the end of the school year. "It's like they've [the students] had 3 months more of math instruction," lead author Sian Beilock told Science. "In the real world that's a pretty big effect."

Unsurprisingly, using the reading app made little difference to the children's maths scores at the end of the school year.

And here's an interesting result: when families used the app around once a week or more, children of parents with high maths anxiety scores, made gains in maths achievement similar to those made by children of parents with low maths anxiety.

"The benefits of occasional math-related interactions are especially apparent for children whose parents are anxious about math," the authors conclude. "By providing an engaging way for math-anxious parents to share math with their children, the math app may help cut the link between parents' high math anxiety and children's low math achievement."

Speaking to KQED News Beilock, highlighted that as parents we need to try convey to our kids that maths is something that's enjoyable and learned.

"You don't hear people walking around bragging that they're not good at reading," she says. "But very intelligent people brag about not being good at math."

As such, Beilock notes, being conscious of how we talk about maths, and how we integrate it into our lives is important – both inside and outside the classroom.

"Brief, high-quality parent-child interactions about math at home," the authors write,"help break the intergenerational cycle of low math achievement."

Well, I don't know about you, but this maths-anxious mum is pretty keen to give the app a try. And who knows - it might just teach me a thing or two as well.

Read more about the app here.

And watch a book trailer here:

What do you think? Would you try something like this with your kids? Are you maths-anxious?