Engaging in math-related activities at home could improve a lot more than your child’s math performance, according to new research. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, suggest that preschoolers who engaged in number-related activities at home have higher literacy scores than their peers. Paradoxically, this means that kids who practice math tend to become better at reading.
“There is a lot of research coming out showing that math and language skills specifically are highly related,” study co-author Amy Napoli of Purdue University told Fatherly. “I am interested in how parents engage their preschoolers in math at home, and wanted to see if that engagement is related to other skills besides math.”
Past research has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the home learning environment, both in boosting academic achievement and future employment success. But despite preliminary evidence that literacy and numeracy are related, few studies have examined how encouraging children to play math games at home influences their less numerical pursuits—vocabulary and reading ability, for instance.
So Napoli and her team studied 116 preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5-years-old. They tested each child’s math and language abilities in the fall, and surveyed their parents about the math and literacy activities that the children engaged in at home. When children were assessed again in the spring, the results indicated that kids who engaged in number-related activities, such as counting games, predictably showed more progress in math. But they also boasted improved vocabularies.
The main limitation of the study is that the results rely on self-reporting from parents. It is possible that kids who play math games at home are also more likely to play word games at home, and it’s also possible that parents who claim their kids engage in more academic activities are otherwise influencing their children to perform well in school. In order to demonstrate causation (as opposed to the current study, which highlights a correlation) Napoli hopes researchers will conduct more thorough follow-up studies, randomly tasking families with specific math games to see whether those children outperform others.
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Until then, the main takeaway is that parents and children should be playing mathematical games at home. Because almost every parent reads to his or her kids — but how many play Sudoku with them? “Engaging children in math may promote a broad range of skills and that math engagement at home is important,” Napoli says, adding that it doesn’t have to be that complicated or boring either. Turning math into a game “could be a promising way to get parents to ‘buy into’ doing math at home.”