Bringing the Magic: Making Sense Of The World With “Mathmetizing”


When I give out free books at community family events, I meet two categories of children. There are the children who live in homes with lots of books and are being read to daily. These children are instantly attracted to my book display and their eyes sparkle with joy as they pick out a “new” gently-loved book to take home. The second category is the children who don’t joyfully respond to my offer for a free book and usually say, “no thanks, I don’t need any books.” Sadly, books hold no magic attraction for children who don’t own any books and/or have not been read to. They have not, yet, had the opportunity to fall in love with books.

I discovered that we can add the missing magic attraction to books for those children by creating “story bags” that contain a stuffie or other toy that matches the book’s cover. Here’s how it works. When a child is holding a toy dinosaur,  suddenly there IS a magic attraction to that dinosaur book because now the book is relevant. The relevance is the magic. If a child loves horses, they will be attracted to a book with a horse on the cover. When you find out what a child loves, you’ll be able to find a book they will love.

Our story bags have become the hallmark of the Book Fairy Pantry Project and I am delighted to share that our “magic” story bags have gained community-wide support. We now get large donations (thank you all so much) of brand new Beanies, boxes of the zip bags we use, beautiful, very gently-loved children’s books, and sometimes, we even receive already created, matching book and toy story bags! People are loving making the book/toy matches as much as I do.

For children without many or any books in their homes, receiving one of these story bags can literally change a non-book-loving child into a child who falls in love with books. The magic is the matching toy. The matching toy acts as a bridge to the book. I bring story bags when I volunteer as a reading buddy with first graders and they love to get to pick which one they want us to read. My job is to make our time together so much fun, they will fall in love with books.

I’ve always said if I could give young children only two gifts they would be books and blocks. So, I’ve been making up bags containing three board books about the alphabet, numbers, and colors, and about 2 dozen colors-of-the-rainbow mega blocks. I call this a Blocks & Books LiT KiT. I give these LiT KiTs to PreK students entering school from under-resourced neighborhoods. These simple kits become magic when combined with as little as ten minutes a day of what I call “Special One-On-One Table Time” with a parent. Choosing any one of the 3 books and doing the enclosed block activities with a parent strengthens their foundation for both math and reading and their connection with their parents.

Imagine my excitement when I met “my” match! I call her the math fairy, but her actual name is Jayashree (Jay) Sonti. Jay co-founded the Early Math and Language Initiative (EMLI) with her colleague Mary Goodie. EMLI is bringing the math magic to under-resourced families in Lewiston, Maine, and will soon bring their program to Portland. We very quickly discovered that we are kindred spirits dedicated to providing under-resourced families with the resources they need to give their children the foundation for reading and math that will support them in achieving success in school and in life.

“EMLI’s flagship program is an intergenerational, math-centric kindergarten readiness program for preschool children and their families. These classes provide the support families need to help their young children succeed in math. Adults participate in “math-play” activities with their child during evening sessions. Instructors model strategies, share information and offer suggestions in an environment that may be less intimidating than a traditional classroom. Take home activities, books, and math kits are provided to extend learning into the home in an engaging and enjoyable manner that encourages the kind of positive parent/caregiver interactions central to the child’s academic success.”-Jay Sonti and Mary Goodie (

Jay has been teaching me so much about how early exposure to math concepts in the home is every bit as vital to children as early exposure to books in the home. When children begin to use math knowledge to make sense of the world around them, they are “mathematizing.” For the adults, this means talking with children about simple math concepts like more and less, bigger and smaller, shorter and taller, while building with blocks, doing puzzles, playing early board and card games, pouring, measuring, reading, singing, and playing hopscotch. Just as parents are young children’s first teachers for learning to read, parents are young children’s first teachers for learning math. Parents bring the magic!

Start your local Book Fairy Pantry Project with the free resources on Pam’s website! 



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