Guest Blogger

Finding the Math in Children’s Storytimes

In Massachusetts, the children’s librarians at Worcester Public Library (WPL) are weaving math learning into story times. Math, at the library? With toddlers and preschoolers? The answer to both questions is a resounding, YES!

Storytime at Worcester Public Library with librarian Cara Young

Since 2019, WPL has been our valued partner in Education Development Center’s Young Mathematicians (YM) in Worcester project, a Family Math initiative funded by Heising Simons Foundation, Overdeck Family Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Their work to bring math into the children’s room is adding up for kids.

Research shows that Early Math Matters! Preschool children’s mathematics understanding significantly predicts school achievement over and above reading skills and attention skills. This research has WPL librarians buzzing about ways to tweak their story times to bring out the math.

https://youngmathematicians.edc.org/math-topic/spatial-relations/Mathematizing” story books.” Co-author Rebecca Raineri hosts a STEM Storytime every Friday morning at WPL’s Frances Perkins branch. A former teacher, Rebecca has embraced the notion of mathematizing—noticing, bringing out, and talking about the math around us. She plans story time activities that not only help promote children’s literacy skills and love of books, but also bring out the math in what they are reading or doing.

Caleb, Grace, and Ari walk around the small reading room searching for hidden shapes. They have their fingers curled around their eyes as if using binoculars. Caleb shouts, “I found a triangle.” When Rebecca asks “Where…” Caleb points and answers, “There,” to which Rebecca responds, “You found a triangle inside the basket. And we know it’s a triangle because it has three straight sides. Can you find more shapes?”

This shape hunt activity—and reading books about shapes during story time—helps children recognize and describe shapes, an important foundation for later math knowledge.

Other examples of mathematizing storytime include:

Scarf dancing using spatial and positional words. After reading Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins, CSL Rezarta Reso engaged children in “Scarf Dancing”, a favorite movement activity. However, instead of encouraging children to randomly sway scarves, Rezarta directed the movements by using spatial/positional words from the story: Move the scarf above your head. Between your legs. Along your left side. Along your right side. Far from your toes. Near your toes.

Scarf dancing during a library story hour at Worcester Public Library

Narrated field trip. Librarian Katherine Maher, Children Services Librarian invited children to go on a “Field Trip” to the big window. The children followed Katherine as she headed to the window while narrating her route: We are going past the round table. Now we are walking between the book stacks. We are turning right and walking straight toward the window. Look how close we are. Yay, we made it.

These simple activities help build the children’s spatial understanding and spatial awareness – critical early mathematics skills.

Librarian Rebecca Raineri reads during a storytime.
Counting geodes during a library storytime

After many years of facilitating story times and now bringing in early math, the WPL librarians have learned a lot and offer these five tips:

Be prepared

  • Pre-read the book and look for ideas to help children notice math vocabulary and math. For example, Small Walt saw a hill ahead- it was a high, high, hill. Can you raise your arms high, high, high?
  • Have space and materials ready. For example, during a reading of Walter’s Wonderful Web , Rebecca held up construction paper shapes she’d gathered earlier to correspond with the shapes in the text.

Include movement

Young children have a tough time staying still for long periods. Adding movement helps keep them engaged. One way to do this is to reference ideas from the story. For example, “Let’s turn around two times (hold up two fingers) just like Angelina did.”

Take it slow

Slow down while reading. Point to and discuss pictures. For example, the very hungry caterpillar ate through 5 oranges, and there are 5 children who came to story time today- 5 and 5, that’s the same! Toddlers may need a long pause to study pictures, process what they hear, and respond to your questions.

Follow a routine

Use a predictable structure or pattern like a welcome song, story, or hands-on activity. Patterns help children predict what comes next, make sense of their world, and feel more secure and confident.

Have fun and show your appreciation

Fun is contagious. If you’re having fun, children and families will, too. Cara Young, CSL states that it is important that librarians show their enthusiasm for the book’s content and characters. For example, “…chocolate cake, an ice cream cone, a pickle, a slice of cheese…? That’s a lot of food….”

Finally, remember to thank families and remind the kids how awesome they are!


Our guest contributors today are Lori Coletti and Rebecca Raineri.

Lori Coletti is an Early Childhood specialist at EDC. She coordinates, develops, and delivers accessible, research-based professional development opportunities that align with state and national standards. She has expertise in early math development, language and literacy, child assessment, and early childhood programming.

Rebecca Raineri is a Children’s Librarian at Worcester Public Library. With over 13 years of experience working with children, Rebecca is passionate about books and learning, and believes that libraries are a fundamental resource for all communities. She can be reached at rraineri@mywpl.org.


Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

2 comments

  1. Barb

    Nicely written!

  2. Suzi Wackerbarth

    Wow, what a great idea!!

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