Recent studies show that when parents talk about math with their children, children’s math skills improve. However it is difficult to prove that math talk is the direct cause of the improvements. So what is driving these improvements?

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and University of California, Irvine conducted a meta-analysis of 22 studies, finding that the home math environment, specifically parents’ math talk, was a significant predictor of children’s math performance. The researchers acknowledged however that this effect can also be consistent with the reverse — children’s increased math skills lead to them talking more about math at home — so they set out to test if the results were associated with other factors, such as the length of the observation, the kind of math discussed, the math skills being assessed and the children’s prior math knowledge.

They found that controlling for parents’ general (non-math) talk did not weaken the connection between math talk and math performance, suggesting that there is a math-specific connection occurring. Whether the connection is driven by the parents’ effects on their children, the children’s effects on their parents, or both, remains unclear.

Interestingly, the researchers discovered weaker causal effects when children's general math skills and past math performance were included. This suggests that the impact of talking about math at home might not be as powerful as the pathways through which these earlier math skills developed i.e. children's interactions with numbers, patterns and spatial relationships in their daily routines and activities.

### StepUp Note

Talking about math at home can help children see the practical value of math problem-solving. StepUp to Learn exercises include daily math practice, especially in the skill of “subitizing” (the ability to look at a small set of objects and to “see” how many without counting). For children that struggle with math fluency, our Vision Blocks Math exercises use daily routines to build a key basic skill. Math fluency improves math problem-solving both in school and at home!

Note by Nancy W. Rowe, MS, CCC/A

Research published in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology