Lack of early math skills linked to negative outcomes later in life

It can be hard to picture our preschooler or kindergartner sending out resumés, yet part of parenting is preparing our kids for the jobs of tomorrow. Early math skills are also life skills.

In 2013, Celia R. Baker, reporting for the Deseret News, shared some alarming research findings in an article titled “Early Exposure to Math concepts Is Vital to Avoid Innumeracy Later on, Missouri Study Says.” Innumeracy is essentially the numbers equivalent of illiteracy.

The article noted that a long-term University of Missouri study “followed 177 children from kindergarten through seventh grade” and “found that children who don’t grasp the meaning and function of numerals before they enter first grade fall behind their peers in math achievement, and most of them don't catch up. Those who start first grade behind their peers in math achievement remain at heightened risk for low math scores through seventh grade.”

Important early skills extend beyond basic counting. The article quoted psychologist David Geary, an author of the study, as saying, “young children must be taught to understand ‘number systems.’” By this he means “they must thoroughly understand that numerals represent quantities that can be broken down in various ways. The numeral 9, for instance, can be expressed as several differing number sets: 1 and 8; 2 and 7; 4 and 5; or 3 and 3 and 3, for instance.” The article further says, “That understanding is the starting point for solving more complex problems, such as adding 7 to 18.”

Our collective math deficit hasn’t developed overnight. The study found, “One in five adults in the U.S. can’t do basic arithmetic problems such as adding fractions, working with measurements and doing whole number arithmetic problems,” and deemed 22 percent of adult American functionally innumerate.

Also in 2013, Richard Pérez-Peña reported for the New York Times on similar findings in a study for the OECD Skills Outlook, titled the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), which evaluated the skills of adults in 24 countries. It looked at literacy, numeracy, and “problem solving in the context of technology-rich environments.” Pérez-Peña’s article, “U.S. Adults Fare Poorly in Study of Skills,” notes that the U.S. “ranked near the middle in literacy and near the bottom in skill with numbers and technology.”

Clearly, building foundational math skills in little learners today will have far-reaching consequences for tomorrow. The Desert News article includes some great tips for parents. Among them are the importance of introducing numbers, shapes, and concepts such as “greater than” and “less than” early on, showing kids you value math achievement even if your own math skills are not A+, and helping them understand that math success is more about hard work than being born smart.

A combination of high-tech and traditional resources can help. For example, Little Scholar® learning tablet for ages 3-7, comes preloaded with dozens of apps that build both literacy and numeracy skills. The Little Get Ready for Math! Book helps kindergarteners and first graders learn and review math skills. It's just the right size for small hands and also an easy fit in backpacks or totes for take-along learning fun. It includes age-appropriate math objectives such as number recognition through 12, one-to-one correspondence, concepts of more and less, simple addition and subtraction equations, and more.

The Big Math 1-2 Workbook works on addition, subtraction, greater than/less than, counting by 10s, time, money, fractions, and more. On-Track Math 1, On-Track Math 2, and On-Track Math 3 are playful iPad apps that build grade-appropriate skills. (Also available in other platforms.) Find more early math apps here.

Help kids get ready for a number of great possibilities by building a rock-solid foundation in numbers.