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Parent-child maths play improves children's future mathematical competence

Principal researcher

Completed doctoral project

Zhao, Y.V. & Gibson, J. (2023). Early home learning support and home mathematics environment as predictors of children’s mathematical skills between age 4 and 6: a longitudinal analysis using video observations and survey data. Child Development.

Spark: Mathematical skills have become increasingly important in this digital age. However, many children struggle with maths learning since early years. It is urgent to improve children's motivation for maths learning and their mathematical competence through fun and playful activities. 

Gap in research: Previous studies on guided play and the home mathematics environment demonstrate the potential to enhance math skills through play activities. However, the mechanisms behind how play influences math learning and the best strategies for parents to effectively incorporate math scaffolding into play remain unclear.

Research context: The current study examined N=1000+ children in the German context.

Research findings: 

  • High-quality home learning support at age 2 is positively associated with mathematical development between ages 4 and 6. This support includes advanced math talk, distancing strategies, and cognitive skill activities delivered attentively and responsively by parents.

  • Both formal (e.g., doing sums) and informal (e.g., reading calendars) home mathematics environment (HME) activities at age 5 predict mathematical skills at age 6, controlling for skills at age 4.

  • Prior mathematical attainment significantly influences the impact of HME activities, suggesting that maths learning inequalities should be mitigated as early as possible as parents might be more likely to introduce formal and informal HME activities if children were initial high-achievers. 

  • Parental SES and migration history indirectly affect children's math skills through early home learning support, with lower-resourced families providing less frequent support.

Take-home message: Parent-child play that is linguistically and mathematically stimulating, attentive, and responsive at age 2 could have significant impact on children's mathematical development in early childhood. Parental education, SES, and migration history influence the quality of early home learning support, impacting long-term mathematical development. Future research and interventions should focus on creating supportive home learning environments for all children to promote early mathematical skills.

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