Parents should talk about math early and often with their children (w/ Video)

Nov 09, 2010

The amount of time parents spend talking about numbers has a much bigger impact on how young children learn mathematics than was previously known, researchers at the University of Chicago have found.

For example, whose talked more about numbers were much more likely to understand the cardinal number principle — which states that the size of a set of objects is determined by the last number reached when counting the set.

"By the time children enter preschool, there are marked individual differences in their mathematical knowledge, as shown by their performance on standardized tests," said University of Chicago psychologist Susan Levine, the leader of the study. Other studies have shown that the level of mathematics knowledge entering school predicts future success.

"These findings suggest that encouraging parents to talk about numbers with their children, and providing them with effective ways to do so, may positively impact children's school achievement," said Levine, the Stella M. Rowley Professor in Psychology Professor in Psychology.

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University of Chicago psychologist Susan Levine has found that early exposure to mathematics words prepares students for success later in school. Credit: National Science Foundation and the University of Chicago

The results of the study were published in the article, "What Counts in the Development of Young Children's Number Knowledge?" in the current issue of Developmental Psychology. Joining lead author Levine in the study were four other scholars.

Although other researchers have examined early learning, the University of Chicago team is the first to record parent-child interactions in the home and analyze the connections between parents' number talk and subsequent performance.

Parents often point to objects and say there are three blocks on the floor, for instance. Children can repeat a string of numbers from an early age, but saying "one, two, three" is not the same as actually knowing that the words relate to set size, which is an abstraction.

Frequent use of number words is important, even if the child doesn't seem to pick up on the meanings of the number words right away, Levine said. Children who hear more number words in everyday conversation have a clear advantage in understanding how the count words refer to set size. To perform the study, team members made five home visits and videotaped interactions between 44 youngsters and their parents. The taping sessions lasted for 90 minutes and were made at four-month intervals, when the youngsters were between the ages of 14 to 30 months.

The variation in number words was startling for researchers as they reviewed tapes of the 44 youngsters interacting with their parents in everyday activities. Some parents produced as few as four number words during the entire period they were studied, while others produced as many as 257.

"This amount of variation would amount to a range of approximately 28 to 1,799 number-related words in a week," said Levine.

Those differences were shown to have a big impact at the end of the study, when the children were asked to connect the words for numbers with sets of squares presented on sheets of paper. For example, those children who heard a lot of number talk were more likely to respond correctly when shown a set of five squares and four squares and asked to "point to five."

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User comments : 4

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ArtflDgr
not rated yet Nov 09, 2010
the effect follows cause, not the other way around...
marjon
not rated yet Nov 10, 2010
USA elementary children are competetive with r.o.w.
In later years is where they falter and I suggest the cause are mathematicians.

"Some calculus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult. The fools who write the text-books of advanced mathematics-and they are mostly clever fools-seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. On the contrary, they seem to desire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way."
Prologue, "Calculus Made Easy", Silvanus Thompson, 1910.
The most understandable math texts I have found have been written by Brits or Aussies.
rgwalther
not rated yet Nov 12, 2010
My mother always taught me to ADD the number of times I would be beaten for misbehaving, and SUBTRACT the number of times I would be rewarded for anything. My father DIVIDED the number of times he would become involved in such equations by MULTIPLYING the number of times he would find other things to do.
axemaster
not rated yet Nov 14, 2010
"the cardinal number principle — which states that the size of a set of objects is determined by the last number reached when counting the set"

So... if you count up the amount of something, then you know the amount? As in, I counted 5 apples, therefore there are 5 apples?

Uh... there are people who don't understand that? I'm confused...