Seattle Foundation Blog

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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