Kids who know ‘number words’ may do better in school

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Teaching young children the mathematical values associated with number words could set them up for success in school, a new study finds.

The research also shows that children who have a basic understanding that addition increases quantity and subtraction decreases it are much better prepared for math in school.

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“Our previous 10-year longitudinal study followed first graders and how their basic understanding of numbers and the relations among them puts them on a track for future success in high school and work,” says David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri.

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“However, there have been few studies that bridge the gap between preschool curricula and later success in early elementary school. Our current study follows kids from preschool to first grade, and we found that future success in mathematics lies in the basic understanding of number words and the quantities they represent.”

For the study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, researchers followed 112 preschool children ranging in ages from 3 to 5 years old and identified as at risk for school failure. Controls were established to account for general knowledge, parental background, and other factors.

The children selected were administered several tasks to evaluate non-symbolic skills (such as quantities of collections of objects) and symbolic quantitative and calculation skills, including their understanding of number words and the ability to add and subtract from collections of objects.

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“We measured participants’ math skills at the beginning of preschool and again at the end of preschool,” Geary says. “Kids who better understand the value of number words have an implicit understanding of addition and subtraction and are more fluent at processing numbers going into kindergarten.

“Preschoolers need to have a good understanding of quantities associated with number words and need to have experiences manipulating set sizes. Preschool curricula sometimes covers a lot of things, so what seems important may not be—we want to help narrow the most fundamental concepts down so that kids can continue to be successful throughout their school careers.”

The researchers will continue to follow the children through first grade in this four-year longitudinal study where they will use the same preschool measures to evaluate success.

The National Science Foundation and the University of Missouri Research Board funded the project. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Source: University of Missouri