Parents who are interested in supporting their young children’s future academic success would be wise to focus not only on reading, but also on math.  Dr. Deborah Stipek,the former dean of the school of education at Stanford University researches the effect of early learning. She maintains that pre-school teachers should focus on math instruction because it predicts future success in school.  She is part of a “network of university researchers advancing young children’s opportunities to develop math skills.” According to 2007 study by the the Russell Sage Foundation a child’s ability in math in kindergarten strongly predicted his abilities in both math and reading later in elementary school (grades three and five).  

Furthermore, Dr. Greg Duncan of University of California at Irvine author of  a much quoted study: “School Readiness and Later Achievement” makes an even stronger statement: “Kids with persistent math problems are 13% less likely to complete high school then those with no problems, and they are 29% less likely to attend college.” According to Dr. Stipek, high math ability is a strong predictor of good executive functions   Unfortunately, pre-schools generally focus very little time on math: 3% vs. 10% for reading. The bulk of the time in pre-school (60%) is devoted to meals, naps, and other activities.   One of the reasons for the inattention to math may be a “closed mindset.” Some people are under the mistaken impression that math in an innate ability. Overcoming that misconception can improve children’s attitudes to math.

Some advances appear to be taking place. Teachers in the Head Start start program are beginning to receive professional development which may also help them overcome some of their own math anxiety. Lisa Ginet of the Erikson Institute explains the importance of early math succinctly: “Learning about math is about learning how to think, it’s about learning how to solve problems. Math is one of the ways that we make sense of the world.

Laura Maniglia