Study says: Moms talking math to preschoolers equals knowledgeable kids

Our youngest son asks every single night to play hide and seek when it’s time to go to bed. He wants to hear us count while he climbs the stairs, and no, we can’t make any mistake, because he learned this way how to count up to 20… It’s something small, but according to a new study talking math to preschoolers can have benefits! The study tracked 40 families over a three-day period and recorded their conversations.

Do note that the research hasn’t been published yet and that even while there is a longitudinal aspect to the study, the findings are rather correlational than a causal relation. Also note that the study is small and not representative. Co-author Davis admits,  “We had a higher-educated group of mothers, because we had a hard time recruiting those with high school or less education. But the study suggests that parents do tend to talk about math and numbers in the home.”

“When there were more of these conversations — controlling for education and other factors — children did better a year later in math achievement,” Davis says. “Higher-educated parents seem to already be doing these activities, and it would be good to consider ways to make this easier for mothers (and fathers) with lower levels of education to incorporate these in their daily conversations.” (source).

From the press release:

Preschool children improve their math skills when their mothers talk to them about math during meal times.

The new study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile offers insight for parents on fostering their children’s math skills through discussions at home.

“By knowing the type of math input that children receive at home, teachers might be better equipped to support children’s (math) development in school,” said Pamela Davis-Kean, associate director at the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development and associate professor of psychology.

Understanding math is more than counting or learning the names of numbers. Other research shows that it can involve the parent-child interaction in cooking, reading or playing with money—and these activities can help the child’s math development.

The study analyzed the link between how much math preschoolers hear from their mothers at home during breakfast and dinner—times of the day that families were most likely to discuss math.

Mothers and kids in the study recorded three days of conversation and completed questionnaires about their education background and household income. A year later, they were contacted by researchers to assess the children’s skills.

Researchers analyzed the transcribed mother-child conversations during the designated times, which included eating, preparing meals, cleaning up and doing other activities. On average, mothers involved their children in nearly 38 instances of “math talk” during the four hours of breakfast and dinner times.

The child’s formal (school) and informal (home) math knowledge—such as number comparisons, calculation and understanding concepts—led to better math abilities a year after.

“These findings propose that some children seem to have more opportunities to learn mathematics at home than do other children, and those opportunities relate to the development of math skills at an early age,” said Maria Ines Susperreguy, the study’s lead author and assistant professor at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile.

Future studies will need to show the impact fathers have in discussing math in homes, the researchers said.

The findings will be presented March 20 at the Society for Research in Child Development meeting in Philadelphia.

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