How to Plan For a Little Free Math Library

Mar 15, 2022 | Math Activities, Math Tips, STEM

Have you heard of Little Free Libraries? We’re working to start our own trend based on these little community libraries, but with a twist. A mathy twist, in order to normalize math in our community.

So we launched a Free Little Math Library outside The Community Classroom in our little ole’ village of Florence, MA. We have received a few inquiries about how we made this happen, so we thought we’d make our planning process visible for all others who want to create their own. And we sure hope you do!

First of all (and pretty please!), we ask that you give The Community Classroom credit. This was the brainchild of Jay Bright, a tutor of The Community Classroom. We are proud of our tutors and their bold and beautiful ideas. So when you create your own, please use the following language: The Little Free Math Library is the brainchild of Jay Bright and The Community Classroom in Florence, MA. Thank you in advance!

What is a Little Free Math Library?

Let’s start with some basic foundational knowledge, as you may be asking yourself: What is a Little Free Math Library (LFML)? A LFML is a  math game exchange for the community to borrow, share, and return math games! We hope that much in the way that Little Free Libraries have popped up all over neighborhoods, the LFML movement will do the same thing.

Why do Little Free Math Libraries matter?

Society has embraced the little free libraries with books, drop-in reading programs at libraries, book readings and signings at book stores, and other embedded pieces in our community that demonstrate normalization of reading and literacy. We hope to do the same for math! Imagine this: families  “do” math for fun, that kids can pop in public libraries for math game time, and people notice math all over the community. It’s time, folks!

How Do you Plan For A Free Little Math Library?

Our team boiled down the planning and implementation process to 10 steps. We hope this helps guide you in your creation. Let’s spread the math love!

Step 1: Define your vision for the Little Free Math Library. 

Spend a little time thinking through your vision, including the following questions:

Who is your audience?

What are you picturing?

Who can help make this happen?

What’s your timeline? (We had two months until Pi Day, so it seemed like our timeline was meant to be)

What’s your budget?

What are you hoping its impact will be? How will you know? 

Step 2: Build a team.

Who needs to be involved? Who has the bandwidth the be involved? We decided to keep this project in-house at The Community Classroom, especially since we were hoping this would be a charming little piece of our own community and classroom.

Step 3: Find the right spot for your Little Free Math Library.

We had a Little Free Library outside the Classroom already, so we had the perfect place in mind. We wanted to make sure it was under our awning to protect kids from snow, rain, and any other weather while they were math game shopping. We also wanted to make sure it was far enough off the street that kids would be away from traffic.

Step 4: Find the right container for your LFML.

We learned a hard lesson from our Little Free Library (picture below) that was in a charming little wooden cabinet. What we learned is that no amount of weatherproofing can prepare a piece of indoor furniture from Massachusetts winter weather and snowplow shenanigans. This time we were thinking really sturdy, really strong, really ready for any kind of climate. Luckily, we saw a post that the city was getting rid of these yellow, plastic, real estate booklet containers that were sprinkled on sidewalks throughout the city. Thanks to the Downtown Northampton Association, we scooped one up to call our own! These were made for western Massachusetts weather and the perfect height for kids, so we knew it was a match made in heaven!

Step 5: Survey teachers and kids and create your wish list of math games.

This was an important step to find out what games your people want IN the LFML. What games are popular in classrooms? Which games are really high quality? Which games are family favorites that kids would love to share with others? Then take the results create your wishlist! Price out the games with local stores. You can view our list of games here.

Update: Lesson learned on day 1! Make sure your games all fit IN the library. Or if they don’t, think of a rotation or a way for people to check them out (a card or photo) and then get the physical game from inside your space (we are doing that with the game Azul and Make 7).

Step 6: Reach out to potential partners.

We decided to see if any of our community members wanted to sponsor games to help offset the costs. It also would help create a sense of ownership with the community. We created an email with a list of the games and costs to send to our community members.

Step 7: Create clear policies. 

In full transparency: We just launched our LFML this week, so our initial policies will most likely change based on hiccups and feedback. For example, we realized at the Launch Party that we didn’t have a return policy for the length of time to hold onto a game. Other policies might include:

Who can check out games?

How do they check out games?

What are the expectations of care?

How many games can they check out at a time?

Step 8: Create a check-out form. 

Create a simple online form for families to check out games. We decided to include a name, a dropdown list for the games, and a phone number for contact information if we needed it for tracking down the games (you can view our form here). We used a QR code on the front of the LFML for families to use—we decided to keep it digital (for now). We also included a QR code inside the games for families to leave a review and made sure to create “please return to” labels with our address to ensure that games would be returned. We’ll keep you posted about how this ends up working and what lessons we’ve learned!

Also important: have a few people try out the forms to work out any kinks before your library goes “live.” 

Step 9: Make your Little Free Math Library sparkle!

Thanks to our lead tutor Christina Webster, our LFML really does sparkle. We decided to use our branded colors and to try and make it as kid-appealing as possible. We had to give it a good scrub and consider what language we’d want on the outside (and font, of course!). 

Step 10: Host a launch party and ribbon-cutting.

We decided to go big with a launch party and ribbon-cutting. We created a press release to send out, a Facebook event, we published the event in our local Chamber of Commerce newsletter, and we asked the Mayor to attend. We had the Mayor cut the ribbon with one of our sixth-grade students, and they both said a few words about everyone’s favorite subject (math!). We even hosted a segment on News Channel 22’s Mass Appeal to spread the mathy word! 

We arranged for several stations with math games, including a “which one doesn’t belong,” giant tangrams, Genius Square, Shut the Box, tessellating pentagons, Numboo, and several Pi-related math games created with chalk. We also left chalk out for good ole’ fashioned sidewalk drawing!

We asked Silver Moon Sweets to make some delicious math cookies and we put out some pink lemonade and water. We created a Pi Day playlist and got ready for our big day!

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