Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Early Math

12/15/2009

As argued by Ginsburg et. al, the fact that the intervention research on early math lags behind the research on early literacy can be explained at least partially by the long-held belief that young children are not able to understand mathematics in complex ways, and that even "everyday" mathematical skills cannot be cultivated in children as young as preschool. As research has built the case showing just the opposite, early math concepts are now central in early childhood education standards, and comprehensive early childhood curricula include deliberate, organized activities to promote understanding of mathematical concepts.

What are the early mathematical concepts that children should acquire in preparation for school? There does not appear to have been extensive conversation among math educators and researchers about what mathematical concepts constitute school readiness. Across the curricula that have been developed, there are similarities in the content areas, however, including:

  • basic aspects of number and operations,
  • geometric shapes,
  • spatial relations,
  • measurement, and
  • patterns and logic.

The paper discusses six mathematics curricula for preschool on which impact research has been conducted in the United States and two with research from New Zealand. The paper also considers results from research on mathematics activities included as part of comprehensive curricula. As described in the paper, the curricula have different learning objectives and use a variety of materials and approaches, including games, story books, activities, manipulatives, and computer software; stand-alone activities and other activities. Across the various curricula and approaches, most had statistically significant impacts of at least moderate size. Since no two curricula studies used the same measure, it is difficult to compare effectiveness. Further, the research is not useful for determining which aspects of the instruction were most powerful in improving children's math knowledge. Long-term follow-up data also appear to be missing.

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