The Importance of Early Math Numeracy

Not surprisingly, what students know about math by first grade seems to be an early indicator of how well they will be able to do everyday calculations later in life. About 1 in every 5 U.S. adults can’t perform at a mathematical level that is expected of a middle school student.

A study from the University of Missouri tested 180 7th graders that were performing lower than their peers in a test of core math skills needed to function as an adult. The results showed that the students that were behind in 7th grade were also behind in 1st grade. Unfortunately, the gap was never filled. Dr. David Geary a cognitive psychologist leads a study tracking children from kindergarten through high school in the Columbia Mo. School system. He stated that the students behind in the early grades are not “catching up” with students who started ahead.

Geary says students need “number system knowledge.” This includes:

  • knowing that 3, three, and 3 dots all represent the same quantity
  • knowing that 23 is a bigger quantity than 17
  • realizing that numbers can be represented in a variety of numerical ways such as 2 + 3 = 5
  • 4 – 1 = 5,  5 + 0 = 5, 6 – 1 = 5
  • using a number line to show the difference between 10 & 12 is the same as the difference between 20 and 22.

 Mann Koepke of NH’s national Institute of Child Health and Human Development has a number of suggestions to help children with math at an early age.  For example:

  • attach numbers to a noun such as 5 crayons so they can visually see the concept of the number
  • talk about distance by asking “How many steps to your ball?”
  • describe shapes
  • measure ingredients
  • discuss what time you need to leave to get to a destination at a certain time
  • making change when buying items
  • predicting which line in a grocery store will be the quickest

It is never too early to start recognizing how much math is used in daily activities.  And whenever possible, it pays to intervene early to ensure student math success.

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