Number Talk in Early Childhood
Over the past few years, educators and experts all over the country have been investigating how we can advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education and close the achievement gap in these disciplines. Although research and policy has focused primarily on K-12 education, recent studies show that we can build a foundation for STEM success in early childhood.
In a study conducted at the University of Chicago, researchers found that engagement with “number talk” in early childhood is actually a key predictor of math achievement once children enter school. The study revealed a large variation among the participating families in terms of how many number words parents spoke in front of their young children (ages 14-30 months)—many children heard as few as three or four number words in an average day, and these children tended to struggle with basic math concepts. Journalist Annie Murphy Paul, in an article published by the education web site MindShift, aptly commented: “Many of us feel completely comfortable talking about letters, words, and sentences with our children—reading to them at night, helping them decode their own books… But speaking to them about numbers, fractions, and decimals? Not so much.”
This “number talk” in early childhood provides another tool we can use to promote STEM achievement. The MindShift article
provides some simple tips for incorporating math words into conversation with young children:
- Read numbers on road signs and in store windows.
- Ask a child to count toys, books,… or the number of broccoli florets the child has left on the dinner plate.
- Count down the hours to bedtime or the days to a holiday, and discuss temperatures in a weather forecast.
- Talk with older children about quantities in their favorite subjects and pastimes, such as sports scores or science projects.
Please share any additional tips on promoting “number talk” at home or in the classroom!
Above image provided by Chad Elliott.