The mission of a Summit-based group called Bedtime Math is to "make math as playful and fun for kids as dessert." And this week, thanks in part to the organization's efforts, students across New Jersey will be eating up their time by tallying their broken crayons for a worthy cause.

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Short Hills resident Laura Overdeck, the founder and president of Bedtime Math, said math often gets shortchanged in a child's formative years. She and her husband always read bedtime stories to their kids, but would also give them a short, fun math problem to figure out.

"We read for pleasure. We don't have math for pleasure," said Overdeck, laughing. "I think the reason is because we don't weave it into our daily lives the same way we do with reading."

Taking a page from her family's experience, Overdeck launched Bedtime Math in 2012 as a correspondence between about 10 of her friends in town. She said interest in the concept doubled within a week, and before long, local parents didn't have to goad their kids into doing these math problems; the kids actively asked for them. Now, Bedtime Math's reach includes the entire United States, as well as the United Kingdom.

From now until June 10, Bedtime Math is partnering with the California-based Crayon Initiative for the Great Crayon Cleanout. In New Jersey, more than 100 schools in 18 counties will participate in the event, in which students bring old pieces of crayons — which are not biodegradable — into school to be collected and sent off to a facility that melts down the crayon wax. That wax will be shaped into new crayons, which will then be donated back to New Jersey children's hospitals this fall.

Overdeck said the prospect of counting and categorizing the crayons, finding which colors are most popular and the like, takes away the "assembly line" approach usually used in school math lessons, and gives the activity a real-world application.

"The reason math needs to be fun is because, as research is finding, the more we love something, the better we learn it," Overdeck said. "We have evidence that doing hands-on math really turns kids on to it, and really helps them enjoy the numbers."

Schools that finish in the Top 10 in crayon collection will get their choice of a prize: a 3D printer, drone, or telescope.

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Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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