There is a universal belief when it comes to educational development. The “typical” belief is that reading to children as much as possible will empower them. Reading bedtime stories will aid them in becoming better learners. Reading books at bedtime will cultivate their love of learning from a young age. This thought process is ingrained in both parents and teachers and continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Read to your kids. Let your kids see you read. READ! READ! READ! And yes reading is unquestionably important and a necessary skill for educational development. But could the case for reading books with your children at night be challenged? There are a million wonderful children’s books that can provide any child an escape from the everyday and grow their imagination through their loves and personal interests. Yet what if a child is not a fan of reading and every night this task turns into an argument, crying, shouting match, or all of the above while you are just trying to help your a child love to learn?
As a father of 4, I have witnessed this saga occur night after night as my wife asks my 6 year old daughter to finish one part of her daily homework -20 minutes of reading. My daughter’s mood would change instantly and she would refuse, my wife would then get angry and the entire thing would end in no reading and 2 very upset women in my life. To make it worse her twin brother would happily read as all this went on, never arguing and never even thinking about it. It is not because he is a significantly more fluent reader but rather he just loves books . Now my daughter loves when we read to her but not with her. Honestly I think she just enjoys the 1-1 time. The thing is she prefers Math and numbers, they make more sense to her. This is where here mind travels,where her creativity comes out, where she enjoys challenging herself. As someone who reads novels for pleasure, my wife can not comprehend this. “How could someone enjoy word problems, fractions, geometry? Who would like this?” I would then remind her she is married to a math teacher and tell her it’s ok, I get it! When my wife points out my daughter is counting the squares on the curtain pattern design, I get it. When she tells us “grandma’s house has 13 steps” I get it. Then I tell her there are 14 if you count the step down in the living room. Her smile tells me she gets it, and our minds are similar.
You see I was once this kid too. I had undiagnosed dyslexia. And no matter what my mom did to try and “help me” read. I felt frustrated and alone. I NEVER got lost in a book that interested me or found the answer in my summer reading camps (AKA summer school). I never found a love for just reading a book. Still to this day you won’t find me on the beach or at home reading a book. Instead you may find me staring off at the 4 inch tiles on a floor trying to calculate the square footage. At the beach you will find me staring off again, but really I am figuring out the ratio of men to women currently in the ocean. I’m never out hunting for a good book, you will find me in the brain teaser section of Barnes and Noble. And guess what? I am not alone. I am definitely not the only adult who still just doesn’t have the desire to sit down with a good book.However I may be one of the few people in the education profession that will openly admit it. This is not something new but something that I have tried to hide or lied about my whole life.
As a kid and teenager reading was a struggle. Undiagnosed dyslexia discouraged my love of the written word. I knew I was behind and felt self conscience as I tried to read and the words continued moving around on the page. As a result I was the kid who consistently acted out and was considered disrespectful when I refused to take my turn to read aloud to the class. However when it came to mathematics and numbers, those feelings of defeat were never there. The words and numbers on those pages stayed still and I do not have an explanation of why. Math just made sense to me! I looked forward to math class each day because I was no longer the kid who sat around trying to avoid being called on. Those word problems that everyone hated were my chapter books. They helped me develop my literacy skills in a different way. This is where my comprehension skills were demonstrated; where my predictions were made; where I could explain why I thought something may or may not happen; where I could back my opinions up from what was in the text; and where I learned confidence in my thoughts. This was my childhood experience. This experience now aids me in how I am raising my kids when I see the same thing in them.
The thing is we all learn in different ways and at our own pace. My wife and I are examples of this and our kids are mimicking our strengths and weaknesses. Our minds are different, we think different, we see and interact with the world different. It’s actually amazing how unique each one of us is and how our perceptions of the world around us shape who we are. If you don’t believe me take a minute and consider some recent decisions made by a few people you consider close family and friends. Do you find some of their decisions odd, something you wouldn’t ever do, or just think their decision is stupid? Well I am certain they are looking at your choices and questioning them as well. It is part human nature and it’s okay. Our ability to view the world differently is something to be embraced. And this is why There is not one standard as to how we learn. Unfortunately when it comes to educating children, we sometimes get caught up in a few undeniable concepts that will work for everyone, such as bedtime stories and the value the provide.
We all know a typical children’s story provides characters, a setting, a problem, and a solution to that problem. They are also written to practice what are considered important “sight words”. Well guess what, currently a typical math problem provides children with characters, a setting, a problem. The difference is you the reader must find the solution. To do this you must check for comprehension and understanding through conversation, illustration, and predictions. You must then apply that knowledge to build your own solution to conclude your story.
With the belief that mathematics can hold the same value and parallel the literacy skills my children will need, we began doing things a little different at “story time”. Playing to my daughter’s strengths, I no longer read her bedtime stories. Sure there are stories read as my wife loves to read and my children love to be read to.. But I do bedtime with my children in a way that I love, by working on math problems.
Discovering a free app known as bedtimemath.org , I began using math problems as bedtime stories and talking through them. We read the the problems and discuss the relevant information that allows us to practice comprehension skills, we estimate where an answer should numerically fall through predictive analysis, we draw pictures to maximize comprehension; we form a hypothesis and we figure out a solution to the end of our story. And then finally we check our work to determine if our solution makes sense by rereading the text in order to develop strong text dependent analysis skills.
And this new found way of life has led to a better feeling around reading as my daughter who loves Math doesn’t even realize she is honing her reading skills. She is not overcome with a feeling of dread rather she growing a love of learning. And my son is growing mathematically in a way he may of not if we didn’t alter our approach. We are practicing sight words, checking for comprehension, holding discussions, and spending time together providing 1 on 1 attention to each of my children.
Now I know “bedtime math word problems” doesn’t come across with the same spark as a “a bedtime story” believe me I never really thought about it until observing myself in my daughter’s struggles. But as a parent you will try anything because It’s hard to watch your kids struggle. Especially when they have a twin brother succeeding without issue and you can see they are comparing themselves feeling as though they are not as “smart”. However we have watched a positive change over the past few months. Her reading has improved, her confidence is up, and she loves math class more than ever. Bedtime stories alone could not have accomplished this. I have to give another shout out to “bedtimemath.org” for your FREE app and the mission you continue as a non-profit open educational resource. If any of you out there notice literacy struggles in you own children, maybe they would prefer to read math? It never hurts to try.
Here are some free open educational resources that may help you get started.