Education: Zeno Math
Zeno powers up a love of math in low-income communities.
June 10, 2019
By Cynthia Flash. Read this story and more in Volume 4 (pdf) of Seattle Foundation's Heart & Science magazine.
When four-year-old Austin Lau plays with the cards,
blocks and trucks he got from the teacher who visited
his house, he doesn’t know he’s doing math. He
simply sorts the pieces. Or counts the wheels. These
are fun games he enjoys nearly every day with his
mother Heidy on the floor of their south Seattle home.
“He loves it. He can count to 100,” says Heidy, who
came to Seattle from China two years ago. “For the
blocks he builds different shapes, castles. He has a
match game. Every week we get an activity.”
Those activities and games are distributed to Austin
and other preschoolers by Zeno, a small nonprofit
focused on improving kids’ math confidence and
abilities with engaging and interactive games.
The goal is to excite young children about math
before they enter grade school – to make sure they
are ready to learn more and have a positive attitude
about math from the beginning.
Zeno focuses on low-income communities. In its
MathWays for Early Learning program, Zeno partners
with family service providers such as preschools,
home visiting programs and other community
organizations to provide math game kits to families.
Zeno partners with communities
with the greatest needs to engage
kids in positive math experiences
early in life. They work through
preschools and family service
organizations to support fun and
engaging math activities.
For more information, visit
It hosts Family Math Nights in schools it partners
with and hosts semi-annual MathFests, a celebration
of math play open to the public.
Just as literacy programs aim to get books into
homes to support parents reading to their children,
Zeno works to bring math play and activities into
homes, says executive director Julie Marl.
Zeno’s MathWays for Early Learning program is
seeing strong demand. Last year, this program
served 500 families of preschool-age children. It
expects to serve 1,500 families this year – mainly in
King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
“It’s amazing that she remembers those shapes that
I couldn’t even say when I was that age,” says Helen
Altamurano-Tang, whose three-year-old daughter
Phoebe plays Zeno games with her older sisters.
“Can you say `parallelogram'?” Helen asks Phoebe.
“Parallelogram,” Phoebe answers proudly before
returning to her Zeno-provided transportation toys.
“Zeno helps her to familiarize those shapes, those
colors, those numbers,” Helen says. “She’s really
excited to be more active in learning.”
Research shows that early math skills are a better
predictor of later academic success than literacy
or social emotional skills. “It’s about building
a kid's math foundation, so they can have the
opportunity for greater success throughout their
academic career," said Marl. "By building a strong
foundation in math, kids have so many more
doors open to them down the road.”
Jesse Gilliam, communications director for
Washington STEM, agrees. “We work with Zeno
because we feel young people throughout
Washington state really deserve and need the
tools to prepare for their future,” he said. “Because
our economy and world are increasingly digitally
focused and focused on using STEM (Science,
Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills,
we believe that STEM education is needed to get
these folks there. It’s not only for the economy, but
for life and interacting with the world.”
Heart & Science Magazine
Read Heat & Science magazine Vol. 4 for more on how philanthropists, community organizations and Seattle Foundation are working to create a healthy community through supporting education and health & wellness.
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