We know a lot about the foundations of reading: you sing your ABC’s, memorize sight words, then learn to sound out new words. Pretty soon, children can read simple sentences. Instead of seeing individual letters and sounds, they begin to take in whole words and phrases. Without a good foundation however, some children struggle to reach this point. As text gets more and more complicated, children lacking this good foundation become increasingly frustrated and may lose their desire to read. Quite often, something similar happens in mathematics. Children lacking a strong foundation in the basics–who aren’t “well-versed” in basic mathematical language and concepts–continue to struggle as they get to higher levels of mathematical complexity. Results of a long-term study attempt to shed light on what kind of foundation needs to be laid in the early years of math education.
Head researcher David Geary noted: “We found that understanding numbers and quantity is a necessary foundation for success as the student progresses to more complex math topics… The kids that can go back and forth easily and quickly in translating numerals, the number five, for example, into quantities and in breaking complex problems into smaller parts had a very good head start.” The researchers also found that first graders who understood the number line and how to place numbers on the line and who knew some basic facts showed faster growth in math skills than their counterparts over the next five years. Grade school math may seem simple to adults, but parents who want to prevent later frustrations and lay the groundwork for future math success will want to pay special attention to helping their children develop strong early math skills. The investment of time and energy in these early years will be well worth it!