When introduced properly, math can—and should—be fun for children. This belief is at the heart of the “family math” initiative, which we at Overdeck Family Foundation have supported through grantmaking and advocacy efforts for the past four years.

The family math initiative promotes play-based math learning early and often in non-formal learning settings. The goal is to build critical early math skills before children begin kindergarten. Why is this important? Because research shows that entering kindergarten with early math skills is the best predictor of eighth-grade performance regardless of race, gender, or family socioeconomic status. Researchers also find that children who consistently struggle with math are less likely to receive a high school diploma or attend college.

Child participating in family math activities through an EDC Young Mathematicians program in Worcester, MA.

The movement was created in 2016 when a group of practitioners, researchers, and funders (including Heising-Simons Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CME Group Foundation, McCormick Foundation, and Skeebo Foundation) identified the opportunity of using family-based math play to build critical early developmental skills. These efforts were distributed across 30 organizations nationwide and supported by a team at Education First. The guiding principle of this work was that math can cultivate joy, engage curiosity, and unlock confidence for the youngest of learners—and that parents and early educators had important roles to play in introducing and exploring mathematical concepts with young children.

This past May, with even stronger conviction in the importance of this work given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Family Math Coordinating Committee invited select organizations to apply for a chance to become the long-term home of family math. Members of the Parent Advisory Council and Coordinating Committee spent the spring and summer months researching and conducting interviews with 10 highly qualified organizations. Today, we’re thrilled to announce that we have selected NAFSCE (National Association for Family, School and Community Engagement), in partnership with the Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative, as the official new home for family math!

NAFSCE and Erikson Institute have previously provided leadership on several national multi-stakeholder initiatives, including a partnership with Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to advance systemic family engagement at the state level. We’re excited to support them in building out the family math initiative and continuing to keep parents and families at the heart of this work. Every aspect of NAFSCE’s work in addressing systemic obstacles to family engagement focuses on collaboration, inclusion, partnerships, relationships, and trust—all key elements of growing a successful national movement in family math.  

In addition to creating a national center on family math, NAFSCE’s efforts will focus on creating the enabling conditions for this type of work to scale through research, parent and educator practice, policy, advocacy, and expanded philanthropy.

Specifically, their work will include: 

  • Research: A culturally responsive research agenda that offers more insight on how family math works, for whom, and why. Overdeck Family Foundation is funding culturally-informed ways to measure outcomes including family engagement, attitudes toward math, and math learning.
  • Practice: In order to implement family math equitably and effectively, there must be strong tools and supports to use at home and across the community. This means building awareness of family math practices and tapping into NAFSCE’s broad network of family advocates to share resources that support parents’ and caregivers’ interests and needs.
  • Policy: Broad implementation of family math requires increased financial investment and integration of family math with other early learning efforts. NAFSCE will continue to build diverse stakeholder leadership, with an emphasis on parent/family leadership at local and national levels to advocate for family math. They will tap into existing programs and campaigns to accelerate this process, including the Family Math Parent Leadership Toolkit, created by parents, for parents. 
  • Philanthropy: The philanthropic community will play a crucial role in helping to ensure that these efforts have the resources to be successful and sustainable.


Update on Existing Family Math Funding

In addition to supporting NAFSCE’s work, Overdeck Family Foundation is excited to continue funding direct service programming in family math. As an original funder of the Family Math Roadmap, we remain committed to increasing families’ accessibility to and usage of early math concepts and skills. The evidence is clear: early math is key to later academic achievement, and it is especially important for students of color and from low-income communities who have historically been denied equitable resources and are most likely to experience the math opportunity gap. 

In 2019, under the umbrella of family math, our foundation and Heising-Simons Foundation provided grants totaling $2.8 million to PBS SoCal and Education Development Center (EDC) to support these organizations in building out family math efforts in Compton, CA and Worcester, MA. Dubbed the “Learning Community Grantees,” PBS SoCal and EDC have used the grants to expand their family math programming and lift up effective strategies and tools that can be shared with other communities, an effort that will now be supported by NAFSCE.

Cupcake Math: It’s a Piece of Cake! Children explore counting objects up to 20 while decorating paper cupcakes. Image via PBS SoCal.

Over the past year, the PBS SoCal Family Math initiative, which focuses on fun, developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant math opportunities for children aged 2-5 in Southern California, resulted in over 600 deeply or moderately engaged caregivers; 13,473 lightly engaged caregivers; and positive increases in parents’ math beliefs, confidence in teaching their children specific math skills, and confidence in understanding Common Core math principles. Promising early findings also showed 13% growth in caregivers who agreed that they are actively involved in their child’s math learning and 45% growth of caregivers who understand the Common Core standard for identifying and describing shapes. While COVID-19 dramatically shifted the context for families, PBS SoCal was able to quickly respond to remote learning by launching a Family Math website populated with new, custom content and a Family Math parent forum. They also increased their digital production output, giving them an unprecedented opportunity to reach tens of thousands of families with family math resources. They will continue this work this coming year.

The EDC Young Mathematicians in Worcester project resulted in family math training for 92 educators who reached approximately 1,000 children and families. Feedback from educators who participated in the professional learning sessions showed that they were more excited, prepared, and supported to teach math to young children: in the words of one educator, “I really like what [YM] is doing – it’s a revolution, in a way, to get that much attention for math with preschoolers!” The sessions, which had a Net Promoter Score of 64, were built on EDC’s carefully developed and tested cross-context (home and school) family mathematics intervention, and similarly had to pivot to an online format during the pandemic. To continue the momentum, the team at EDC added a texting program called “Math Mondays,” which sends a short math prompt to enrolled families and created illustration-based game directions to increase home usage for families with different literacy levels in English. This year, EDC will continue to build out its program, as well as engage in an evaluation designed to help the field understand best practices for incorporating family math through school-home-community connections.

Building a Stronger Preschool Mathematics Program in Head Start

As an early funder in family math, we’re thrilled to be supporting both individual organizations who do this work and NAFSCE, who plans to expand and advocate for family math nationally, bringing it to as many children, families, and communities as possible in the years to come. Given how crucial early math skills are to later academic achievement, we believe that programs, resources, and the broader movement for family math are all critical components on making sure that children have the skills they need to succeed.