How parents stimulate early numeracy: counting, sorting and simple sums

We know that being good in mathematics is heavily influenced by genetics, but that doesn’t mean that nurture has no influence. This new Belgian study (Yeah!) finds links between certain math skills in young children and specific numerical activities undertaken at home with parents. The researchers also state that the more parents engage in mathematical activities with their children, the higher their early numeracy performance. But maybe genetics isn’t really of the table, as you will notice…

From the press release (warning in bold by me):

New research links specific numerical activities undertaken by parents to certain math skills in young children. Published today in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, the study also finds that the more parents engage in mathematical activities with their children, the higher their early numeracy performance.

Previous studies indicate that early mathematical skills provide a better transition to school-taught mathematics. It’s well-known that parents can play an important role in their children’s early mathematical development — but, until now, the link between specific numerical activities and certain math skills was not well understood.

To shed light on these links, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium assessed 128 kindergarten-age children for various symbolic and non-symbolic numerical tasks. The researchers also asked parents to indicate the frequency of certain numeracy activities undertaken with their children at home and then looked for connections between this and the children’s early numeracy skills.

“We found that the more parents engaged in activities such as identifying numerals, sorting objects by size, color, or shape, or learning simple sums, the higher the children performed on skills like counting,” says the study’s lead author, Belde Mutaf Yildiz.

“These activities — and talking about money when shopping or measuring ingredients while cooking — were linked with a more accurate estimation of the position of a digit on an empty number line. In addition, engaging in activities such as card and board games was associated with better pictorial calculation skills.”

Mutaf Yildiz says the research supports and extends the idea that parent-child interaction plays a role in children’s acquisition of early mathematical skills — and that policymakers should recognize this.

“Increased public awareness on the role that parents can play in their children’s development of mathematical skills just by doing more number related activities in a home environment would be hugely useful,” she says.

“Policymakers should think about providing educational tools for some home numeracy activities to help parents enhance their children’s mathematical development.”

The researchers caution that the study’s findings are based on cross-sectional design and correlation analysis, meaning that the results don’t indicate any cause-and-effect relationship. For example, it could be that children who are already good at mathematics are the ones triggering ‘home numeracy’ instead of their parents.

Despite this, with research on home numeracy in its infancy, Mutaf Yildiz and her colleagues are calling for more comprehensive investigations and observations of home numeracy activities, as well as further intervention studies to determine which specific activities best help children enhance their mathematical skills.

I can add a warning too. Maybe the parents are better at math, their children therefor too, which could lead to more mathematic interplay. Still, an interesting study

Abstract of the study:

Home numeracy has been shown to play an important role in children’s mathematical performance. However, findings are inconsistent as to which home numeracy activities are related to which mathematical skills. The present study disentangled between various mathematical abilities that were previously masked by the use of composite scores of mathematical achievement. Our aim was to shed light on the specific associations between home numeracy and various mathematical abilities. The relationships between kindergartners’ home numeracy activities, their basic number processing and calculation skills were investigated. Participants were 128 kindergartners (Mage = 5.43 years, SD = 0.29, range: 4.88–6.02 years) and their parents. The children completed non-symbolic and symbolic comparison tasks, non-symbolic and symbolic number line estimation tasks, mapping tasks (enumeration and connecting), and two calculation tasks. Their parents completed a home numeracy questionnaire. Results indicated small but significant associations between formal home numeracy activities that involved more explicit teaching efforts (i.e., identifying numerals, counting) and children’s enumeration skills. There was no correlation between formal home numeracy activities and non-symbolic number processing. Informal home numeracy activities that involved more implicit teaching attempts, such as “playing games” and “using numbers in daily life,” were (weakly) correlated with calculation and symbolic number line estimation, respectively. The present findings suggest that disentangling between various basic number processing and calculation skills in children might unravel specific relations with both formal and informal home numeracy activities. This might explain earlier reported contradictory findings on the association between home numeracy and mathematical abilities.

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