Adults are often intimidated by math, and they can easily pass that attitude on to their children. To counter this, some schools are holding events to bust misconceptions and get adults on board with one of schools’ most anxiety-ridden subjects.
Family math nights are designed to engage parents and guardians in fun games with their children. Schools host the events to reinforce the importance of folding early math skills into everyday family tasks, to help adults understand the importance of a growth mindset in math learning, and to help explain schools’ approaches to instruction that may have evolved over the decades.
In a recent survey of math educators conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, 22 percent of respondents said they had encouraged parents to attend math-focused events at school with their children.
Want to try it out? Educators who have hosted successful community math nights say there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Here are a few strategies you can steal—er, borrow and carry—to make your event a success.
1. Try tested math games
Several organizations have designed research-based, often free family math games that can easily be played with common materials, like dice and printed handouts.
Regional Education Laboratory-Appalachia created a facilitators’ toolkit that includes a preparation timeline, a materials list, a premade slide deck about helping boost students’ motivation to learn math, and a menu of games that align with early math objectives, like fractions, numeracy, and basic geometric concepts.
The games are designed to be relevant in the “real world,” by emphasizing skills like ordering from a menu without going over budget or measuring ingredients for a recipe. They also help students understand the connection between concrete objects, like blocks, and how they are represented in more abstract math problems.
Additional resources from other organizations include:
- A website from the National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement provides research and resources on family math, including at-home activities that help parents connect math concepts to daily activities.
- Stanford University’s Development and Research in Early Mathematics Education has an array of math activities for parents and children, including “snacks"—small activities like noticing differences in the size of shapes while children are drawing or comparing prices at the grocery store.
- Math Unity, an organization that engages communities in children’s math learning, has free online games, video demonstrations, and parent handouts.
- Education First has a menu of family math resources, including Spanish options.
2. Use these strategies to maximize turnout
Coming to school on a weeknight? To do math? On purpose?!
It might not sound like the most fun way for a family to use free time, but educators who’ve hosted successful events say participants are often eager to return once they give it a try.
Participation in the Monticello, Ky., district’s math nights increased dramatically when math instructional coach Jamie Reagan joined forces with the school’s reading teachers to combine family math and reading events. Now, as many as 600 people turn up to play learning games together on the two key subjects on nights held once a semester.
Educators at the school team up to plan the events, which often have themes, costume contests, and high school athletes who bring the energy of a pep rally to boost children’s excitement.
Kelly DeLong, the executive director of the Kentucky Center for Mathematics, which helps schools throughout the state improve math instruction and outcomes, said it’s also important for schools to respect the value of families’ time. That means serving free food if an event happens during dinner hours, and inviting siblings along.
Some schools have also incorporated community organizations to offer services like budgeting workshops alongside math activities.
3. Consider at-home options, too
Schools that piloted math nights for REL-Appalachia made an accidental discovery when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person learning during their trial period.
When an on-site math night wasn’t an option, those schools offered drive-thru options that allowed families to pick up kits of materials and instructions to play games at home.
The option was so popular that Monticello schools continue to offer it alongside live events, Reagan said.
Some Kentucky schools also hosted video conference events during virtual learning, and the state’s Education Department posted videos demonstrating math games on its website.
Such options can supplement community events and keep math learning going year-round, educators said.