Early math knowledge related to later achievement

A new longitudinal study conducted by Vanderbilt has found that children’s math knowledge in preschool is related to their later achievement—but not all types of math knowledge were related equally.

The findings suggest that educators and school administrators should consider which areas of math study they shift attention to as they develop curricula for the early years.

“Counting, calculating, and understanding written numbers already get a lot of attention from teachers and parents, for good reasons,” said Bethany Rittle-Johnson, professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, who led the study. “However, comparing quantities may merit more attention in preschool, and patterning knowledge may merit more attention in both preschool and the early elementary grades.”

Common Core content standards for school math include shape but not patterning knowledge, and they focus little on comparing quantities. Since patterning skills in the early years predicted math achievement in fifth grade in this study, Rittle-Johnson and her co-authors suggest that teachers and parents engage young children in activities that help them find, extend and discuss predictable sequences in objects (patterns) and compare quantities, without needing to count, such as estimating who has more pennies or more Halloween candy.

A next important step will be to systematically vary how much of this content young children receive and look at their math achievement over time.

More about the study

The study followed 517 low-income children from ages 4 to 11. When the children were in the last year of preschool and near the end of first grade, researchers tested general skills (including self-regulated behavior, work-related skills, and reading) and six math skills (patterning, counting objects, comparing quantities, understanding written numbers, calculating, and understanding shapes).

When the children were at the end of fifth grade, researchers tested a range of math knowledge, including knowledge about numbers, algebra, and geometry. The aim of the study was to determine whether children’s math skills at ages 4 and 5 predicted their math achievement at age 11.

The results suggest that preschool math skills supported first-grade math skills, which in turn supported fifth-grade math knowledge. In preschool, children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects were stronger predictors of their math achievement in fifth grade than other skills, the study found. By first grade, patterning remained important, and understanding written numbers and calculating emerged as important predictors of later achievement.

“Our findings extend those of other studies that have focused on fewer math skills over shorter periods of time and that looked at children from more advantaged homes,” explains Emily R. Fyfe, assistant professor of psychology at Indiana University, who was part of the study when she was a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. “This suggests that children from low-income homes develop math knowledge in ways similar to children from more-advantaged homes, and it supports a more comprehensive understanding of the trajectory of math development from the early years to the later years.”

Dale Farran, Antonio and Anita Gotto Professor of Teaching and Learning, of education and human development, is a collaborator on the study.

Read the article, Early Math Trajectories: Low-Income Children’s Mathematics Knowledge From Age 4 to 11, in the journal Child Development.

This research was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education; the Heising-Simons Foundation; and the National Science Foundation.

Learn more about Rittle-Johnson’s pattern research

Common Core math should include ‘pattern abstraction’

2 COMMENTS

  1. Math is very easy for most of kids if we can bring math to their understanding level and make math so easy that they would want to learn from us again and again. My older son reach advanced engineering level at 10 and my daughter at 7 year old because I taught her little earlier. Because of these results, I keep teaching my third child earlier than their brother and sister. He too begin to solve algebra equation at 3. Now, My 1 year old kid already knows how to count figure to 10. I know they will know math from algebra, to calculus and reach advanced engineering mathematics at 5 year old. It is hard to believe kids can learn that much and that early until you see “Kid calculus or Kid doing advanced engineering mathematics” from You tube, then you will believe the result of early learning math is real, and possible. I have documented and posted so people as well as researchers will know kids can learn at much earlier than we think they can.

  2. My older son know advanced engineering mathematics at 10 year old and my daughter at 7. As I teach them little earlier, both of my younger sons will know math from algebra, to calculus and reach advanced engineering mathematics at about 5 year old (Only see “Kid calculus” from You tube, you will believe it is possible and real result). I have documented and posted so people as well as researchers will know kids can learn at much earlier than we think they can. Finally, I also want to say math is basically very easy for most of kids if we can bring math to kids understanding level and make math so easy that they would want to learn from us.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.