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, children whose parents 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 (e.g., a set of 10 items is larger than a set of seven items).
“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 Stella M. Rowley Professor in Psychology and the leader of the study. Other studies have shown that the level of mathematics knowledge entering school predicts future success.
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.
“The findings underscore the important role that caregivers can play in children’s early mathematical learning,” said Soo-Siang Lim, program director for the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Centers Program. NSF partially funded the research.
“The frequency with which parents’ talk with their toddlers about numbers, such as counting the number of objects in spatial arrays and labeling these set sizes, predicts their children’s understanding of numbers,” said Lim.
“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.