As this recent article makes clear, parents are well-advised to introduce mathematics to their children as early as possible. Research has found that students unable to read at grade level by the 3rd grade are likely to struggle throughout their academic careers. But in a study of “School Readiness and Later Achievement,” Greg Duncan and colleagues found that in comparing math, literacy, and social-emotional skills, that the math concepts, e.g. knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning. In fact, a student’s math skills upon school entry, was a better predictor of math and reading ability by 2nd and 3rd grade than their reading skills upon school entry.
This study provides an empirical basis for what many math educators have been saying for years: that preschool aged children should have a much greater degree of math exposure before they ever set foot in a school. Sadly, a recent study out of Vanderbilt University reports that math in preschool classes is given short-shrift and is taught only 2.5 percent of the day. When math instruction was increased from 2 percent to 4 percent significant math gains were noted. Fortunately, an introduction to mathematics need not mean strict adherence to a specific curriculum. Exposure to mathematics may take a simpler form and there are many meaningful math activities that can be taught in the context of play, e.g. the strategy game Chutes and Ladders, tic-tac-toe, the geometric objects that have to be placed through the correct shape, puzzles, and many more. So if you are looking for a way to help your preschooler have a better chance to succeed in the early grades continue to look for math activities, have math conversations, problem solve together, and teach them to have fun with math.