September 14, 2022
Children who enter school with lower levels of mathematical skills typically continue to underperform and tend to take fewer high-level math courses compared to their peers. It is therefore important to examine the origins of individual differences in mathematical skills prior to school entry.
Major takeaways include:
- Introducing families to simple games that promote parent-child engagement around mathematically meaningful play can promote math learning in fun, natural contexts.
- Low-touch, low-cost interventions can work to improve young children's mathematical skills.
Learning Research and Development Center scholars Andrew Ribner, Alex Silver, Leanne Elliott, and Melissa Libertus explored the effects of an early math intervention for children. The team assigned parents of preschool-aged children to one of four training conditions, two of which were focused on parents alone in the form of a computer task and two of which focused on parent-child interactions in the form of a board game. There was also a no training control condition. The researchers investigated the following questions: (1) Can training parents affect children's mathematical skills? and (2) If so, do these training effects occur through changes in the home numeracy environment - specifically, in children's engagement with math activities?
After eight weeks of training, children in the parent-child number board game condition gained approximately three more points than did children in the no-training control condition; children in other conditions did not differ significantly from those in the no-training control condition. After an additional eight weeks, positive effects of the number board game condition faded out. Interestingly, children of parents in the parent number sense training condition underperformed those in the no-training control condition at follow up. This unexpected negative effect was partially explained by changes in home math activities as a result of the intervention.
These results build on the work of others to suggest that introducing families to simple games that promote parent-child engagement around mathematically meaningful play can improve math learning in fun, natural contexts. There is now repeated evidence of positive findings of similar interventions. Programs such as "Reach Out and Read" have been operating to improve access to literacy materials for more than 30 years. The time has come to similarly improve access to research-based games that promote mathematical play.
Ribner, A., Silver, A.M., Elliott, L., & Libertus, M.E. (2022). Exploring effects of an early math intervention: The importance of parent-child interaction. Child Development.