To Improve Reading, Study Math?


In our globally competitive world, proficiency in math is crucial. Because mathematics is a cognitive skill, exposing young children to math is essential.  Research provides support for introducing math as early as preschool. “Early childhood math achievement can have far-reaching effects on students’ schooling.” Introducing children as young as three to “foundational math” has benefits that can extend far beyond preschool to other academic subjects.

“Preschoolers are particularly receptive to abstract math concepts that can be incorporated in hands-on activities.” Learning about math in preschool involves play.  Activities include: finding patterns, shape and color sorting, simple graphing, constructing, and counting. These can introduce young children to abstract mathematical concepts. “Informal mathematical knowledge, such as making fair shares of a group of treats, provides a key basis for understanding and learning formal mathematics.” In 2011, a research study that focused on school readiness found that early math skills were “the most consistently predictive . .  decidedly more important than socio-emotional behaviors.”  A 2008 government research study concluded: “Preschool children’s knowledge of math predicts later school success into high school and is a better predictor of later reading achievement than early reading skills.”  Moreover, a 2016  study showed that being exposed to more instances of maternal math talk was positively related to children’s early mathematical ability a year later

While the relationship between preschool mathematical play and math ability in later grades seems logical, research has added benefits: early math exposure  also plays a key role in promoting early literacy. Being exposed to mathematics in preschool  increases oral language abilities. A 2011 study concluded: “Preschool children who were involved in a mathematics curriculum  outperformed children in the control group on four oral language subtests: ability to recall key words, use of complex utterances, willingness to reproduce narratives independently, and inferential reasoning (practical content).”

Emphasizing reading at the preschool level does have a positive effect on reading skills in later grades but has little effect on math ability.  Conversely, evidence demonstrates that focusing on early math has benefits that extend beyond math to reading. So, keep supporting math at the preschool level to reap benefits in both math and reading!

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Laura M

Director of Handle Education with 40+ years experience as teacher and administrator in public secondary education, community college and college. Dedicated to helping parents and teachers to maximize student potential.

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