Most parents I know spend a great deal of time reading with their children. We know this is important. We know that there are studies that show how much school success and life success is based on being a good reader. But do we spend enough time talking math (fractions, decimals, numbers) with our children? –Probably not as much as we should.
A recent article I read at the National Public Radio website looked at a few studies on the matter and discussed the importance of talking math with our kids. The article, titled ‘Why It’s Important to Talk Math With Kids‘ cites a number of recent studies that show that “number talk” is a key indicator of young children’s success with math, once they get to school. What is also interesting is that studies show that we begin to see a gender divide between boys and girls, even here. One of the studies mentioned was featured in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology. It found that mothers spoke to toddler boys twice as often as toddler girls about number matters. The researcher’s (Alicia Chang) conclusion was that early interest in math related matters builds later interest in school. Is this one of the reasons girls are left behind in math?
Another study mentioned in the NPR article looked at disparities between how math is “spoken” in the home. Psychologist Susan Levine of the University of Chicago found that some families spoke only a dozen math words while others spoke some 1800 math words a week. The conclusion was not surprising. The more math that was spoken, the more math that was understood. For example, such principles as the cardinal rule was best understood where the most math was spoken. This principle states that the last number counted, when counting a set of object, determines the size of the set. (One, two, three, apples; there are three apples in the set.) In subsequent studies Ms. Levine found that the number talk that best built number knowledge-early math skills, was when parents and children counted or labeled sets of objects before them, particularly big sets between four and ten.
For parents, myself included, this might not come so naturally. Levine suggests we can work numbers into the dialogue in some very simple ways. We can make note of number signs, numbers on the calendars, building addresses, and sale prices in the store. During dinner, we can have our children count what is on their plate. During play, they can count how many dolls, dinosaurs, tiaras, cars, etc. that they are playing with at the moment. She also suggests using numbers when we refer to time or events. It is a 30 minutes before bed time. In ten minutes, we will have a snack. It is 45 degrees out. You get the point. Let’s help our children, too….