Ann Hotta concludes her blog posts on incorporating math into storytime:
Why do we do storytime? We’ve long thought of storytime as a way to introduce young children to good books and demonstrate that reading is a valuable activity.[i] But the explosion in brain research since then seems to be shifting our focus. This research is showing the importance of early brain development, which helps us justify the continuing need for storytime.
I’m feeling pressure nowadays to ensure that kids’ brains get maximum input. I don’t think that I’m alone. Still, I’m resisting. That might be surprising to hear from someone who has been promoting mathematical content in storytime, but I’m also a mom to a child adopted at the age of 2. I know that I don’t want to think that my daughter’s whole life was determined before we even met. In fact, it was my daughter’s struggles with math in school that got me started thinking about how mathematical ability develops. I wanted to prove that opportunities to learn always exist. In my previous post I talked about how Dr. Jo Boaler at Stanford, and many others, believe that a person’s math ability is not fixed at birth or even during early childhood; our brains continue to grow throughout our lives.
You may recall that I began this mini-series with a quote from a Zero to Three webinar:
Early math skills are a more powerful predictor of overall school achievement, even stronger than early literacy skills.[ii]
Since I started with this quote, I’d like to finish this blog series by addressing it.
Overall school achievement is of course highly dependent on math achievement, so it’s not surprising that math skills are highly correlated with overall school achievement. Here lies a problem, though. Math is thought of as a subject in which there are right and wrong answers. We assume this means that we can use it as the “objective” measure of academic ability that our educational system demands. While we no longer teach history by making kids memorize “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” we still teach math by making kids memorize formulas and procedures. It is only because we believe that math ability is something a child is born with or not that we teach math in such a way that only some people can succeed in it.
But libraries in our society were created to be the antidote to all of that. We believe that everyone can become a reader and recognize that different people have different interests. We offer books with different reading levels, formats, genres, and subjects. And we promote reading as a life-long activity for anyone, regardless of their access to other educational institutions. Mathematical ideas in storytime should be no different.
We aren’t in the business of making people smarter – it’s all too possible for people to be smart but not kind or good – we are in the business of making a more equitable world. Wow! While storytime actually might help kids achieve more highly in school, this is just a side benefit. Reading, math, whatever it is that you do in storytime, think of yourself as empowering children to understand and make sense of their world. We already know that stories do that so now I challenge you to use your creativity to expand this work to math. I hope this series has given you some practical ideas, inspired you to think of yourself in new ways, and reminded us all of how even the humble storytime helps us fulfill the library’s greater mission.
[i] Peck, Penny, Crash Course in Storytime Fundamentals. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2015. P.2.
[ii] “Counting on the Early Years: Promoting Math Learning for Toddlers.” Zero to Three webinar. (2019, December 17). Archived at https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/series/virtual-event-archives