Because reading and children’s literacy programs are the cornerstone of many Leagues’ community outreach initiatives, we try to give a shout out every March to National Reading Month. This year we missed our target by a couple of days, but thought this initiative was so important we’re sharing it now regardless that it’s April.

But this year we couldn’t resist giving a hat tip to a truly innovative nonprofit organization that is addressing the “other” illiteracy…numerical. That organization is Bedtime Math, the brainchild of Laura Overdeck, who, among her many other accomplishments, is a member of the Junior League of the Oranges and Short Hills (JLOSH). Laura is ably assisted by staff members—and fellow JLOSH members—Sandy LoPiccolo and Sara Thom.

The idea for Bedtime Math is simple but ingenious. It all started when Laura and her husband John began giving lighthearted nightly math problems to their two-year-old daughter, on everything from stuffed animals to ninjas. Two kids later, when their third child turned two and started hollering for his own math problem, they knew they were onto something, and the nonprofit Bedtime Math was born. The daily math problem quickly gained press attention and followers, showing that the world is hungry for truly kid-appealing math.

The “press attention” included The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Fox Business News and NPR (both Science Friday and Morning Edition)—not bad for a nonprofit start-up!

In response to fans asking for hands-on activities, Bedtime Math has now unleashed Crazy 8s Club, a free kit that any elementary school or library can order to host an eight-week math club (four weeks for preschool). Any kid who likes math should get to enjoy more of it, and any parent can join the movement by starting a new club at any local school or library. Bedtime Math hopes to change our country’s culture around math by making math the cool thing to do.

Bedtime Math’s daily math problem also led to a book deal with Macmillan. Two of those books have been published thus far; the first reached #11 of all books on Amazon, and the second just came out.

There’s no doubt that Laura and her team are on to something. According to the statistics from the National Math + Science Initiative, American students finished 25th in math and 17th in science in a recent ranking of 31 countries, and 54% of our high school grads aren’t ready for college math. So Bedtime Math fits squarely into the whole STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) debate.

Another sure sign that Bedtime Math is on a roll comes in the list of its community partners, which include the American Library Association, Boston Children’s Museum, Liberty Science Center, National Parent/Teacher Association and the Museum of Math!

In case you haven’t yet signed up for their daily math problem, here’s an example of what to expect:

Cats like mice. They like to chase them, and catch them, and that usually doesn’t work out well for the mouse. But if you don’t want live mice running around your house, then cats can help you a lot. In fact, at 10 Downing Street, where the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister lives, there’s an official job for a cat, called Chief Mouser. It’s all pretty simple: the cat lives there and doesn’t really need to be told what to do. There’s been an official mouse-catching cat in the home dating back to the year 1515, since mice were an unwanted problem back then, too. The cat who spent the longest time in the job was Wilberforce, who served for 18 years under 4 Prime Ministers in a row. Larry, who is Chief Mouser today, started the job in 2011 when someone noticed mice on the street outside the Prime Minister’s house. We’re sure these cats are well-fed by their owners, but they probably catch some extra treats on the side, too.  

  • Wee ones: Wilberforce was Chief Mouser for 4 PMs, ending with Margaret Thatcher. How many Prime Ministers before her got to have Wilberforce’s help?
  • Little kids: If Larry started in 2011, for how many years has he been Chief Mouser? Bonus: How many more years than that did Wilberforce serve? (Wilberforce served for 18 years.)
  • Big kids: If the Chief Mouser is fed 2 meals a day and also catches 1 mouse every day, how many total meals does the Chief Mouser eat in 1 week?  Bonus: If 3 new mice are spotted every day and the Chief Mouser must catch them all, how many mice does the Chief Mouser need to catch this month? (Reminder: March has 31 days.)

This problem, among many others, is available day and night through the Bedtime Math app (available for the iPhone/IPad and Android), which has an average rating of 5 stars and has reached the top 20 free education apps on iTunes.

Happy calculating!