Preschoolers need to learn specific math skills in order to avoid falling behind, CIS says
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Preschoolers need to learn specific math skills in order to avoid falling behind, CIS says

Preschoolers need to learn specific math skills in order to avoid falling behind, CIS says

by Freya Lucas

April 13, 2022

Preschoolers need to be taught specific math skills in order to avoid lifelong challenges with mathematics University of Missouri Professor David C. Geary has said, noting that leaving math instruction until school is too late. 


Professor Geary’s paper was produced for Australian think tank The Centre for Independent Studies. The paper notes that children’s basic numeracy skills (for example, being able to select the correct number of objects when asked to) as young as three years of age are a predictor of later success in mathematics. 


He expressed his concern that intervention for mathematical difficulties often comes too late, and that leaving intervention to the school years means children may never catch up to their peers with stronger mathematical skills. 


To combat the deficit, the Professor suggests that early mathematical interventions should be developed which target parent/child activities as well as preschool experiences. 


Not as easy as 123


While many children learn to count fairly quickly, it’s more difficult for them to learn that each number represents a different quantity. Basically, while many children can count to five by touching five objects in a line, it’s much more difficult for them to choose six apples from a basket, or point to the pile of ten things. 


This knowledge – being able to choose six, or point to ten – is known as cardinal knowledge, and around half the difference in students’ mathematical achievement in school is predicted by their cardinal knowledge before starting school, the Professor found. 


“While most children develop this ability by the end of kindergarten, having the skills earlier results in easier acquisition of other foundational skills,” he added.


Four years of research contribute to findings 


Professor Geary’s paper, Setting the preschool foundation for success in mathematics, outlines results from a four-year longitudinal study designed to identify the early skills that predict readiness to learn mathematics.


The study explored four years of learning in a child’s life – preschool at ages three and four, followed by kindergarten and the first grade, and looked at the early quantitative competencies that predict readiness to learn mathematics at school entry.


Children’s school-readiness was able to be directly observed by researchers through children’s count list (i.e., the ability to count, “one, two, three…”), how well they used counting to enumerate (i.e., determine how many) collections of objects, and especially their conceptual understanding of the amounts represented by number words and numerals.


The paper may be accessed here. Image comes from The Smith Family. To learn more about Let’s Count, The Smith Family’s specialised early numeracy program, see here

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