Program works to expand math learning for young kids

Studies suggest early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than early reading skills. But in a typical five-hour pre-school day, less than a minute is spent on math learning, so some programs are working to fix that for kids.

School psychologist Ben Clarke says the key to math success is learning basic math skills early.

“If they get to get off to a good start in kindergarten, they’re likely to be successful in later elementary grades,” said Clarke, who is an associate professor at University of Oregon with a Ph.D. in school psychology.

In a study of a math intervention program called ROOTS, nearly 600 kindergartners were randomly assigned into three groups — medium-sized groups of five students who received the ROOTS curriculum, small groups of two who received the curriculum or a control group of children in regular math classes. The ROOTS intervention consists of 50 lessons that are 20 minutes each.

“The students engage with a number of different math activities that are designed to teach really critical concepts around counting cardinality, around understanding place value,” Clarke said.

The study found the students who were placed in the ROOTS intervention did better on math tests than their peers in the control group, and the kids who benefited the most were the ones who started kindergarten with lower math skills. For parents, boosting kids’ math skills at home could be as simple as measuring ingredients for a recipe, using jigsaw puzzles and blocks to promote spatial thinking.

“Or counting the number of stairs that you’re going up or down to build sort of early addition and subtraction,” Clarke said.

Getting to the root of the problem early on, adds up to math success later.

The students who took part in ROOTS intervention did so in addition to the regular kindergarten math curriculum.

Clarke says another group who benefited from the ROOTS intervention were students with English as a second language.

Reporter:Lois Thome
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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