Future Math Performance Depends on Preschool Counting Abilities

First Posted: Nov 12, 2012 01:24 AM EST

Earlier it was considered important and mandatory for kids to recite alphabets, numbers and days of the week. But the new study claims that just reciting numbers is not going to be beneficial.

According to the research from the University of Missouri, reciting numbers is not enough to prepare children for math success in elementary school.  Rather counting, which requires assigning numerical values to objects in chronological order, is more important for helping preschoolers acquire math skills.

"Reciting means saying the numbers from memory in chronological order, whereas counting involves understanding that each item in the set is counted once and that the last number stated is the amount for the entire set," said Louis Manfra, an assistant professor in MU's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. "When children are just reciting, they're basically repeating what seems like a memorized sentence. When they're counting, they're performing a more cognitive activity in which they're associating a one-to-one correspondence with the object and the number to represent a quantity."

For the study, Manfra had analyzed data from more than 3,000 children that belonged to the low income households in order to notice if the children's reciting and counting abilities in preschool affected their first-grade math scores.

He noticed that students could recite and count to 20 in preschool had the highest math scores in first grade. But however, they seen less than 10 percent of the children in the study could count and recite to 20.

"Counting gives children stronger foundations when they start school," Manfra said. "The skills children have when they start kindergarten affect their trajectories through early elementary school; therefore, it's important that children start with as many skills as possible."

According to Manfra, there were previous studies that showed, in low-income families, parents often considered it as the teacher's responsibility to take care of the children's educations, while teachers expect parents to teach some essential skills at home.

"These low-income children aren't learning math skills anywhere because parents think the children are learning them at school, and teachers think they're learning them at home," Manfra said. "This is a problem because it gives parents and teachers the idea that it's not their responsibility to educate the children, when it's everyone's responsibility. This is problematic because, when the children enter kindergarten and are at lower math levels, they don't have the foundational skills needed to set them on paths for future success."

Manfra emphasizes that, parents and teachers should integrate counting into all aspects of children's daily activities so they can master the skill.

"You can learn anything anywhere, and this is very true for counting," Manfra said. "When adults read books with children, they can count the ducks on the page. They might count the leaves that fall to the ground outside or the number of carrots at lunchtime."

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