Leveraging the Home Environment to Promote Early Math Learning and Motivation

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Room 313 (Hynes Convention Center)
Elizabeth Gunderson, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Even before they begin formal schooling, wide individual differences exist in young children’s understanding of key math concepts. This presentation will highlight the crucial role that parents play in fostering their children’s development in math in toddlerhood, preschool, and elementary school. In our first study, we found that how frequently parents talked to their children about numbers during home interactions when children were 1 to 2.5 years old predicted those children’s understanding of number words at age 4. Next, we created number books to encourage parents to talk more about numbers with their preschoolers. Among families who were asked to read number books each day for 4 weeks, children’s number knowledge improved significantly more than a group of families who were asked to read similar books about adjectives.

Parents also influence their young children’s motivation in math. We observed families at home as part of a longitudinal study starting when children were one year old. The more often parents praised their children for their effort, work, or actions (e.g., “good work”) when children were 1 to 3 years old, the more likely those children, in 2nd and 3rd grade, were to say that they enjoy challenges and believe that effort can improve their intelligence. In addition, those children who enjoyed challenges and believed in the power of effort did better in math and reading comprehension in 4th grade.

Together, these results highlight the importance of parents in promoting math learning and positive attitudes about effort. Although many parents express a lack of confidence in helping their young child in math, or believe that it is the place of the school to do so, our findings show that parents play an important role in shaping math learning and motivation in children’s earliest years.