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The prevalence of tablet computer use among young children has risen dramatically, as have educational apps claiming to promote school readiness skills such as mathematical knowledge. Parents can contribute to their preschoolers' math readiness through the math talk they provide during everyday interactions in traditional nonelectronic activities. However, it is unclear how parents talk about math during tablet play with their children, and how additional suggestions to focus on math might increase the frequency of this talk during tablet play. Fifty-one parents and their 4- and 5-year-olds (Mage = 5 years, 0 months) played with a tablet-based numerical board game for 10 min. Half of the parents were randomly assigned to receive brief additional guidance to focus on teaching their children about numbers while playing the game. All parents produced a large amount of math-related talk relative to total talk while playing the numerical tablet game, yet parents who received the additional instructions produced more math-related talk compared to parents who did not receive the additional instructions. Children also produced more math-related talk in response to parent prompting when their parents received the additional guidance. Further, parents talked significantly less about counting when their children were more skilled at counting, but only when given guidance to talk about numeracy. The findings show promising evidence that math-related tablet computer games serve as an ideal context for parent-child math talk, and with brief guidance, frequency of this talk can be increased. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
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“Tap Space Number Three”: Promoting Math Talk During Parent-Child Tablet Play
Erica L. Zippert a1 (corresponding author)
Emily N. Daubert a2
Nicole R. Scalisea
Gabriella D. Noreen1
Geetha B. Ramania
Zippert, E. L., Daubert, E. N., Scalise, N. R., Noreen, G. D., & Ramani, G. B. (in press). “Tap
space number three”: Promoting math talk during parent-child tablet play. Developmental
Psychology. doi: 10.1037/dev0000769
aUniversity of Maryland, Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology,
University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742,,
1Vanderbilt University, Peabody College, Peabody #329, 230 Appleton Place, Nashville, TN,
2Rutgers University – Newark, Psychology Department, Newark, NJ 07102,
Author Note:
The authors thank Rachel Schneider, Danielle Flores, Thierry Jean-Pharuns, Maria
Trofimenkova, and Veshal Masih for their assistance with data collection, transcription, and
coding. We also thank the staff, parents, and children at Port Discovery Children’s Museum for
participating in this research.
Address correspondence to Erica Zippert, Department of Psychology and Human
Development, 230 Appleton Place, Peabody #552, Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN 37203,
USA. Email:
The prevalence of tablet computer use among young children has risen dramatically, as have
educational apps claiming to promote school readiness skills such as mathematical knowledge.
Parents can contribute to their preschoolers’ math readiness through the math talk they provide
during everyday interactions in traditional non-electronic activities. However, it is unclear how
parents talk about math during tablet play with their children, and how additional suggestions to
focus on math might increase the frequency of this talk during tablet play. Fifty-one parents and
their 4- and 5-year-olds (Mage = 5 years, 0 months) played with a tablet-based numerical board
game for 10 minutes. Half of the parents were randomly assigned to receive brief additional
guidance to focus on teaching their children about numbers while playing the game. All parents
produced a large amount of math-related talk relative to total talk while playing the numerical
tablet game, yet parents who received the additional instructions produced more math-related
talk compared to parents who did not receive the additional instructions. Children also produced
more math-related talk in response to parent prompting when their parents received the
additional guidance. Further, parents talked significantly less about counting when their children
were more skilled at counting, but only when given guidance to talk about numeracy. The
findings show promising evidence that math-related tablet computer games serve as an ideal
context for parent-child math talk, and with brief guidance, frequency of this talk can be
Keywords: Parent input, digital media, numerical knowledge, tablet computers, parent–
child math talk
“Tap space number three”: Promoting Math Talk During Parent-Child Tablet Play
The prevalence of tablets in young children’s lives has risen dramatically. Nationally
representative studies of families with children under age 8 have found that the percentage of
homes with tablet computers rose from 8% in 2011 to a staggering 78% in 2017 (Common Sense
Media, 2017). This increase in tablet ownership coupled with easy access to games and
activities provide enormous opportunity for children to learn through using educational apps with
their parents. Currently, there are over 180,000 iPad apps marketed as educational, covering a
range of academic subjects (Apple, 2018). However, little is known about how parents and
children jointly engage with math content while playing educational tablet games and apps. The
current study examined parents’ and young children’s math-related interactions while engaging
with a math-focused tablet game, and whether brief additional guidance provided to parents
could influence their interactions.
Benefits of Tablet Computers for Math Development
Research has only just begun to explore the potential benefits of children’s educational
app use, and principles from the field of Science of Learning can be used to evaluate whether app
and tablet game play experiences are likely to promote learning (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015).
These principles suggest that children should be cognitively active and meaningfully engaged
during game play, such as solving problems and being exposed to new concepts. Additionally,
the experience should be socially interactive and adaptive, such as talk with parents that caters to
children’s abilities. Finally, learning should be guided by a specific goal, such as playing with
the aim of learning about math concepts.
Tablet apps that build upon these principles can likely benefit children’s mathematical
skills when played with adults such as parents because they align with approaches suggested by
theory and research on early mathematical development. Specifically, theorists suggest that
children learn math during informal social interactions with more knowledgeable others
(Vygotsky, 1978) and when children are exposed to important math concepts, especially in ways
that align with their mental representations of such concepts (Siegler & Lortie-Forgues, 2014).
For example, experimenter-preschooler book reading that emphasized the connection between
counting and labeling the set size of groups of objects improved children’s cardinal number
knowledge (labeling set sizes) compared to conditions emphasizing counting and labeling
quantities separately because preschool children struggle to make connections between counting
and cardinality (Mix, Sandhofer, Moore, & Russell, 2012). Additionally, regular adult-led peer
group board game play improved preschool children’s numerical magnitude knowledge because
the game stressed the linear nature of numbers on a number line, when preschool children rarely
represent numbers linearly on their own (Ramani & Siegler, 2008; Ramani, Siegler, & Hitti,
As such, research has begun to show evidence of successful math learning and
engagement from joint tablet use. For example, first graders who regularly used a tablet-based
math story problem app together with a parent improved in their math achievement by the school
year’s end compared to children who regularly solved non-math story problems at bedtime
(Berkowitz et al., 2015). This intervention was especially effective for children of math-anxious
parents. In a classroom-based study, children who used tablets with the goal of informal math
practice were highly engaged in the activity when it was facilitated by an adult (Stacy,
Cartwright, Arwood, Canfield, & Kloos, 2017). Thus, emerging evidence suggests that joint
tablet use of a math app can be cognitively engaging and support socially interactive math
learning between adults and children, as it aligns with theory on conditions for optimal tablet use
and math learning.
The Home Math Environment and Children’s Math Skills
However, beyond the two aforementioned studies, research has focused on how parents
provide math learning experiences at home (i.e., the home math environment) more generally or
during parent-child play with traditional toys and how this is linked to their child’s math skills
(Casey et al., 2018; Ramani, Rowe, Eason, & Leech, 2015; Skwarchuk, Sowinski, & LeFevre,
2014). In the home context, the quantity and quality of parents’ number talk with their child is
related to their child's number knowledge, both in terms of predicting later outcomes (i.e.,
longitudinal findings) and in response to children’s skills in single timepoint studies (Bjorklund,
Hubertz, & Reubens, 2004; Vygotsky, 1978; Wood & Middleton, 1975). For example, home-
based observations of total quantity of parent talk to their children between the ages of 14- and
30-months predicted their child’s numerical knowledge at age 3 (Levine, Suriyakham, Rowe,
Huttenlocher, & Gunderson, 2010). Both concurrent and longitudinal evidence shows that the
types of math talk parents provide (quality) is related to their child’s numerical knowledge.
Specifically, more advanced number talk (e.g., number sequence), but not more foundational
number talk (e.g., rote counting) is related to preschoolers’ concurrent numerical knowledge
(Ramani et al., 2015). Additionally, children whose parents label quantities of objects (e.g.,
specify cardinal values), also in the home context, later develop more sophisticated number skills
in preschool (Gunderson & Levine, 2011). Further, maternal labeling of quantities of objects for
their 36-month-olds during play with traditional blocks and dramatic play toys predicted
children’s numerical knowledge in preschool and first grade (Casey et al., 2018).
Parents’ number support of these different types (e.g., numeral and cardinal set size
labeling) during the preschool and kindergarten years is especially important as children are still
refining their skills in these areas. For example, while children begin identifying their first
written digits as early as 18 months (Mix, 2009) and can name smaller written numerals (e.g., 1-
3) in their fourth year, they perform only slightly above chance in naming larger written
numerals from 4 to 8, and perform at or below chance in naming numbers 9 through 15 (Benoit,
Lehalle, Molina, Tijus, & Jouen, 2013). Five-year-olds do demonstrate an emerging sense of
place value, or numeral name recognition for 2-, 3-, and 4-digit numbers, though they have not
yet reached mastery (Mix, Prather, Smith, & Stockton, 2014). Further, while preschoolers ages 3
to 5 can label cardinal values of smaller sets of objects (e.g., 3 and 4), they are still learning to do
so for sets larger than 10 (Purpura & Lonigan, 2015).
Parent support is also needed for 4- and 5-year-olds as they are developing skills in
estimating, comparing, and ordering Arabic numerals. For example, 3- to 5-year-olds performed
below chance on a task requiring them to determine what number comes before or after a given
number on a number line (e.g., sequencing), and only moderately above chance in identifying the
largest of 4 printed numerals, even when considering small numbers amongst larger ones
(Purpura & Lonigan, 2015). Further, preschool children struggle to mentally represent numerical
magnitudes accurately (linearly), instead exaggerating the distance between smaller numbers on
certain number lines, and minimizing the distance between larger numbers (e.g., logarithmically;
Siegler & Lortie-Forgues, 2014). Specficially, children through age 4 show logarithmic
magnitude estimation patterns when placing numbers on a 0-10 number line. Further, while 5-
year-olds can estimate numbers 1-9 linearly on a 0-10 number line, they demonstrate a
logarithmic pattern when estimating small and large numbers on a 0-100 number line (Berteletti,
Lucangeli, Piazza, Dehaene, & Zorzi, 2010).
Ultimately, these findings provide two key takeaways: 1) parents’ mathematical talk
contributes to children’s later mathematical knowledge, and 2) parents may tailor their
mathematical talk to their child’s current skill levels to support their use of math concepts as
children continue to hone their numerical skills.
Number Board Games as a Context for Parent-Child Math Talk and Benefits of Guidance
One means of promoting child-directed mathematical talk is to provide parents with a
developmentally appropriate math-related activity. Playing number-related board games
significantly improves children’s numerical skills, both when played in a traditional, non-
electronic format and as a tablet game (Laski & Siegler, 2014; Ramani, Jaeggi, Daubert, &
Buschkuehl, 2017; Siegler & Ramani, 2008). Furthermore, number-related board games provide
a rich mathematical context for parents’ mathematical talk. For example, a study of playful
interactions between Head Start parents and children revealed that a number-related board game
yielded over twice the amount of parent math talk (11% of total talk) than did a number puzzle
(5% of total talk) or a number-related book (3% of total talk; Ramani et al., 2015). The
numerical content embedded in the different activities likely influenced the math talk. The board
game, which was a modified version of Chutes and Ladders, allowed for a greater variety of
types of math talk embedded in the game compared to the other activities. This included talk
about cardinality, counting, and numeral identification as players identified the numbers on a
spinner and moved the game pieces across the board (Daubert, Ramani, Rowe, Eason, & Leech,
2018). In a similar study with mothers and their 5-year-old children during play with another
modified version of Chutes and Ladders, the use of dice provided opportunities for children and
parents to identify the number of dots on the face of dice through counting or subitizing (i.e.,
judging set size without counting), and engage in adding simple sums (i.e., to determine the total
number of spaces to move from the two dice together; Bjorklund et al., 2004). Thus, board
games can serve as an ideal context for parents and children to talk about and apply math
Parents and children may benefit from additional guidance about math beyond the math
cues and math aspects inherent in a given math activity. For example, parents may not be aware
that games and books can provide opportunities to teach their children about math or to engage
in math-related talk (Mix et al., 2012). One study provided parents with guidance to talk about
math with their children (Vandermaas-Peeler, Ferretti, & Loving, 2012). Parents and their
preschoolers were randomly assigned to either a numeracy awareness group where parents were
provided with numeracy suggestions to incorporate into their board game play, or a comparison
group who were not provided with additional numeracy instructions. The parents in the
awareness group talked about math at twice the rate of parents who were not provided such
guidance, and consequently, their children generated more correct game moves and responses to
their parents’ number-related questions. Thus, providing parents with encouragement to focus
on math, as well as ideas regarding how to do so, positively impacted parent math talk during
play with traditional number games as well as children’s responses to this increased parent talk.
However, it is unclear whether providing the same types of guidance to parents during a tablet-
based interaction would yield the same results, given that tablet computer use does not always
involve social interactions (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015).
The Current Study
In the current study, we examined parents’ and young children’s math-related talk while
engaging with a mathematical tablet game, and whether providing brief additional guidance to
parents to focus on teaching their children about numbers can influence their talk. In today’s
digital world, it is crucial to expand our focus of what can be learned about mathematics outside
of school to include everyday interactions with parents with both traditional and tablet-based
Thus, our study had three aims. 1) Our first aim was to explore how parents engage in
math talk with their preschoolers during joint tablet-based play. Since previous empirical work
has shown that parents and children engage in math talk while playing traditional number board
games (Bjorklund et al., 2004; Ramani et al., 2015), the current study examined the quantity (i.e.,
total talk) and quality (i.e., specific types) of math-related talk for parents and children while
playing a board game on a tablet. 2) The second aim was to examine whether brief guidance
could increase parents’ math talk while playing the math-related tablet game with their child
beyond the cues inherent in the game. Although there are many numerical aspects embedded in
the game, parents may not be aware that they could use this opportunity to engage in math-
related talk or teach their children about math. We hypothesized that while the number cues in
the game would encourage parents to discuss a broad range of number topics, providing
suggestions to parents about using the tablet game as an opportunity to teach their children about
numbers would lead to a significant increase in their quantity and quality of math talk they
engage in with their children. We also examined whether the guidance influenced parents’ talk
related to prompting their children to talk and providing them with math-related information.
Given the dyadic nature of the interaction, we also hypothesized that the increase in parent talk
would increase the quantity of children’s math talk, especially in response to parent math
prompts. Additionally, previous empirical work has suggested that parents adapt their math talk
based on children’s abilities during math games (Bjorklund et al., 2004); thus, 3) in our third
aim, we explored whether parents’ talk would similarly relate to their child’s abilities during a
tablet-based board game, and whether this would differ by condition.
Participants were 51 parents (61% mothers) and their 4- or 5-year-old children (41%
girls; 45% age 4; 48 to 69 months; M = 60.31 months; SD = 4.84) recruited from a children’s
museum in a mid-Atlantic state (see Supplemental Materials S1 for additional sample
information and recruitment methods). An additional 11 children were recruited to participate in
the study but were excluded from the final analyses because they did not complete the entire
study (n = 9), dyads spoke in a language other than English for the majority of the interaction
(n = 1), or due to an experimenter error (n = 1). The sample size was determined via a G*Power
(Faul, Erdfelder, Lang, & Buchner, 2007) analysis with a moderate effect size, a = .05, and
power 1- b of .90 with 2 groups.
Participating parent-child dyads were randomly assigned to either an experimental
condition (additional guidance to promote parent math talk) or a no-guidance control condition,
stratified by child gender and age (4- or 5-years-old). The experimental condition included 26
children (M = 59.72 months, SD = 5.52; 38% female and 62% mothers), and the control
condition included the remaining 25 children (M = 60.92 months, SD = 4.04; 44% female and
60% mothers).
Adults with young children visiting the museum were recruited by a trained
experimenter. Parents and their children were led to a semi-private area in a museum room and
given instructions on how to play the tablet game. Parent-child tablet game play was completed
first and video-recorded for ten minutes, at which time an experimenter offered the dyad the
opportunity to continue the game or to move on to the next set of activities if they wished to
discontinue playing the tablet game. After the tablet play, parents completed a brief
questionnaire about their demographics and their family’s home tablet use while a second
experimenter, blind to the experimental condition of the dyad, assessed the child’s numerical
knowledge for those who gave verbal assent. These measures were given after the tablet play to
prevent them from influencing the parent-child interaction. Children were thanked for their
participation with a small toy. IRB approval was obtained: [801617-6] Playing with Tablet
Computers, University of Maryland, College Park.
Tablet computer game. Children and their parents were taught to play an electronic
mathematical board game used in past research (Ramani et al., 2017). The game included a 10 x
10 matrix numbered from 1 to 100, set against the backdrop of a magical pond (see Figure 1).
For all participants, an experimenter opened an example version of the game, showed the dyads
their character (a frog) and the computer’s character (a stork), and explained that the two
characters both started at the beginning (space 1) and raced to the end (space 100). Dyads were
taught to spin the spinner, move their character the indicated number of spaces, and that an
additional question about which character was leading would appear after three turns. All dyads
were then asked if they had any further questions and given a tablet to play the game from the
Guidance. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to the experimental
condition. Before being given the tablet, the experimenter provided an additional instruction to
parents in the experimental condition, but not the control condition, to teach their children about
numbers during game play. Specifically, the following prompt was provided to experimental
condition parents:
While playing the game, try to teach your child as much as you can about the numbers
from 0 to 100. As you play, say whatever makes sense to you to help your child learn.
For example, you could say the numbers in the spaces or you could talk about how many
spaces are left until a character reaches the end.
Our goal in giving this prompt was simply to give some examples to parents of what we
meant by teaching children about numbers but not to restrict their guidance of their child. First,
we wanted parents to focus on the full range of numbers on the board instead of just the smaller
numbers. Second, we wanted to point out opportunities to focus on numeral identification by
labeling the numbers in the spaces. Third, we gave a suggestion to focus on cardinal values by
focusing on the number of spaces needed to move to the end, or perhaps engage in arithmetic by
quantifying the difference between the space the child’s character was on and the end space. In
both conditions, parents and children received prompts in the game to determine whose character
was leading, and this was intended to encourage magnitude comparison talk.
Parent questionnaire. After playing the tablet game, parents were asked to complete a
22-item questionnaire about their child’s media access and use. The questions included whether
or not their household had a working television set and tablet computer, and how much time their
child individually, or jointly with the parent, spent using various types of media the previous day
(Common Sense Media, 2013). All parents in the final analytic sample completed at least part of
the questionnaire.
Child numerical knowledge assessments.
Verbal counting. The experimenter first asked the child to count out loud, stopping them
when they made a counting error or after they successfully counted to 25. The task was scored
as the highest number counted to without errors divided by the highest possible score (i.e., 25).
Number line estimation. Next, the experimenter administered a 0-100 number line
estimation task presented on the tablet computer (Siegler & Booth, 2004). Children were shown
20 cm lines on a tablet computer, with a 0 labeled at the left end and 100 labeled at the right end,
and asked to make a mark on the line where a target number would go. After children practiced
making marks on the number line without a target number, children were administered 26 trials
with numbers ranging from 3 to 96, presented in random order. Children’s accuracy in
estimating the position of the target number on the number line was scored as the percentage of
absolute error, with smaller values indicating higher accuracy (PAE; Siegler & Booth, 2004).
Scores were reversed to aid interpretation.
Transcribing Parent and Child Talk
Parent and child talk while playing the tablet game was transcribed verbatim from the
videos by reliable transcribers using Codes for the Human Analysis of Transcripts (CHAT)
conventions (available at of the Child Language Data
Exchange System (CHILDES; MacWhinney, 2000). Each transcript was verified by a second
reliable transcriber. A transcriber was considered reliable once they reached at least 95%
agreement at the level of the utterance with the master transcriber on videos of parents and young
children from a separate study.
Coding Parent and Child Talk
Each parent and child utterance from the transcripts was analyzed and assigned codes to
measure math talk using the Computerized Language Analysis (CLAN) program of CHILDES
(MacWhinney, 2000). An utterance was composed of a phrase followed by either a 2-second
pause or a change in intonation or speaker. The specific talk code categories were adapted from
a previous coding scheme on parent-child math talk with preschoolers (Ramani et al., 2015) and
are described in Table 1. A spatial talk code was also included to capture talk related to the
physical location of a child's game piece in relation to their opponent and to the start and end
Each code included primary and secondary categories to illustrate the type of math talk
and context of the math utterance. Primary codes included: counting, numeral identification,
cardinal values, magnitude comparison, and spatial relations. These codes accounted for the
variation in math concepts discussed when playing the tablet game. For every primary code
applied to an utterance, a secondary code associated with that primary code was also applied.
Secondary codes for parents included: providing information and prompting their children.
Child secondary codes were initiation and response. While secondary codes were mutually
exclusive, primary codes were not, so more than one code could be applied to a given utterance.
For example, "Count five spaces" would have been coded as counting and cardinal value since
the parent discussed both counting as a strategy and the quantity of spaces. Each category of
math talk was converted to proportions of total utterances to control for overall talk of the
parents and children.
The first author served as the master coder, and the fourth author, who was blind to the
hypotheses, independently coded twenty percent of the transcripts. Discrepancies were resolved
by discussion between the primary and fourth author. Once reliability was obtained, the fourth
author independently coded the remaining transcripts. Information regarding the conditions of
the participants (i.e., experimenter prompts) was removed from the transcripts in order to blind
both coders to the condition of dyads. Interrater reliability ranged from 80% to 100% agreement
(see Supplementary Materials Table S2 for reliability ranges for each code). Certain codes from
the original coding scheme were infrequently used among dyads and could not be reliably coded
(see Table 1).
Missing Data
Twelve percent of children had missing verbal counting scores and 6% of children had
missing number line estimation scores, with 2 children missing both assessments. Thus, we
imputed these data using multiple imputation in SPSS (Graham, 2009).
Preliminary Analyses
First, condition differences were examined to ensure random assignment yielded
comparable groups of participants, beginning with children’s math skills. No significant
condition differences were found in children’s counting (Mguidance = 21.96, SDguidance = 5.27 vs.
Mcontrol = 21.98, SDcontrol = 4.50, t(49) = .02, p = .988, d = .004), or PAE on the number line
estimation task (Mguidance = .74, SDguidance = .05; Mcontrol = .73, SDcontrol = .08, t(49) = .25, p =
.802, d = .07). Second, we also examined whether families differed by condition in their
experiences with tablets based on parents’ survey responses. No differences were found in
presence of iPad or similar tablet device or educational electronic devices (e.g., Leapster) in the
home, the percentage of children who owned their own devices, nor how often families used
their tablet computers at home (see Supplemental Materials Table S3).
We also examined if the talk variables differed by child or parent characteristics.
Independent samples t-tests indicated that parents of 4-year-olds produced a significantly larger
proportion of total utterances about cardinal values (M4-year-olds = .10, SD = .04) than parents of 5-
year-olds M5-year-olds = .07, SD = .05, t(49) = 2.28, p = .027, d = .65. Parents of boys engaged in
a significantly larger proportion of total utterances about spatial concepts (Mboys = .10, SD = .05)
than parents of girls Mgirls = .07, SD = .05, t(49) = 2.15, p = .037, d =.60. Neither significant
gender nor age differences existed within conditions. Since the effects of child age and gender on
parent and child talk were moderate, child age and gender were used as control variables in
Parent and Children’s Math Talk During Tablet Play
In line with our first aim, we first present descriptive statistics in Table 2 on parent and
child math talk while playing a tablet game. We discuss results for families in the control
condition first, as their talk is reflective of how parents and children typically explore math on
tablets. We found that families in the control condition, without any additional guidance,
produced an average of 35% of total utterances that were math-related during tablet play. The
highest proportion of the number-related utterances were about number identification and
cardinality. Parents also referenced spatial relations in 9% of utterances on average. Further,
parents spent a quarter of math-related utterances providing information, and about half as many
utterances prompting their children for mathematical information.
Similar to parents, children in the control group talked about math during an average of
39% of total utterances. During this talk, children tended to most often identify numbers over
other types of math talk and to initiate math-related talk to a greater extent than to respond to
parent math prompts.
Condition Differences in Parent and Child Math Talk
Parent. In accordance with our second aim, we examined how providing parents
additional brief guidance influenced their talk (see Table 2 for means). An ANCOVA
controlling for age and gender revealed that parents who received additional guidance produced
a greater proportion of math-related talk than parents who did not receive guidance F(1, 47) =
9.55, p = .003, partial
= .17.
To examine how extra guidance influenced the specific types of parent math utterances, a
one-way MANCOVA, again controlling for child age and gender, was conducted. Results
indicated a main effect of condition F(5, 43) = 3.76, p = .007, Wilk’s
= .70, partial
= .30.
The math talk types driving this effect were parent number identification F(1, 47) = 9.41, p =
.004, partial
= .17, and parent cardinal value talk F(1, 47) = 4.02, p = .051, partial
= .08.
We also examined condition differences in the context of parent math talk (prompting
and providing information). Results indicated a main effect of condition F(2, 46) = 7.52, p =
.001, Wilk’s
= .75, partial
= .25. Condition effects favoring the guidance condition were
found for both providing information, F(1, 47) = 8.46, p = .006, partial
= .15 and prompting,
F(1, 47) = 4.14, p = .048, partial
= .08.
Child. As part of our second aim, we conducted parallel analyses for the children (see
Table 2 for means). ANCOVA controlling for age and gender was run to detect condition
differences in proportion of total child utterances that were math-related, but none were found
F(1, 47) = .207, p = .652, partial
= .004. We ran a one-way MANCOVA test of condition
differences for individual types of child math talk. We found no condition differences in
proportion of total utterances for math talk types F(3, 45) = .79, p = .506, partial
= .05.
However, a main effect of condition was found for child secondary codes F(2, 46) = 4.52, p =
.016, partial
= .16. Specifically, children provided significantly more responses to parent
prompts in the guidance than control condition F(1, 47) = 8.80, p = .005, partial
= .16, but no
significant differences were found for children’s initiation of math talk F(1, 47) = 1.39, p = .244,
= .03.
Relations Between Parent Math Talk and Child Numerical Knowledge
In line with our third aim, we examined condition differences in how parents’ math talk
relates to their child’s number skills. Table 3 shows the correlations controlling for age and
gender between types of parent math talk and measures of children's numerical knowledge
separated by condition. The results showed a significant negative correlation between children's
rote counting knowledge and parent talk about counting for the guidance r(22) = -.41, p = .047,
but not the control condition r(21) = -.39, p = .062. Additionally, in both conditions, parents
engaged in more spatial talk with children who had more advanced linear magnitude
understanding rcontrol(21) = .47, p = .024, rguidance(22) = .45, p = .027.
Given the increase in the prevalence of mobile device ownership and use as well as the
critical role of parent math talk for early mathematical development, it is necessary to better
understand how parents and children engage with math-related tablet games (Common Sense
Media, 2017). The current study examined how parents and preschoolers explore math concepts
while playing a tablet-based numerical board game. Further, it examined the role of explicit
instructions to parents to teach their child about numbers, and the extent to which this affects
how parent math talk relates to their child’s existing numerical knowledge. We discuss the
findings below and provide conclusions and insight into next steps for this work.
Parents and Children Engage in Math Talk During Tablet Play
We found that play with a tablet-based numerical board game produced a substantial
amount of parent-child math talk even without experimenter guidance. The present study is one
of the first to examine the quantity and quality of math talk while dyads are playing a tablet
game, thus the findings cannot be compared to other similar interactions. However, comparisons
with a previous study of parent-preschooler free play with number-related toys including a
traditional board game with a similar time frame but with a demographically different sample
suggests that talk during tablet play amounted to a larger proportion of math talk (35% vs. 19%
for parents, 39% vs. 17% for children; Ramani et al., 2015). Similar to traditional board games,
aspects of number embedded in tablet-based numerical board games likely prompt parent-child
dyads to talk about math, such as identifying numbers presented on the spinner and the spaces in
order of magnitude, and discussing the number of spaces needed to move (cardinal values).
The game also prompted parents to discuss spatial concepts with their children, such as
their character’s position in relation to their opponent and the end. This talk was likely prompted
by the linear nature of the board game. Recent research has examined parent spatial talk during
tablet and electronic spatial game play (Verdine et al., 2018; Zosh et al., 2015). While spatial
skills and parent spatial support are important for children’s developing math knowledge
(Lombardi, Casey, Thomson, Nguyen, & Dearing, 2017; Mix & Cheng, 2012; Verdine et al.,
2014), most previous research has not examined parent spatial and numerical talk together.
Interestingly, we found that parents’ spatial talk was related to children’s math skills,
specifically their understanding of the magnitudes of numbers. Others have also found that
parent math talk, both number and spatial, relates to more advanced math skills in children
concurrently and longitudinally (Casey et al., 2018; Gunderson & Levine, 2011; Lombardi et al.,
2017; Ramani et al., 2015). Identifying contexts that inherently encourage this talk is crucial for
ensuring that children develop critical math readiness skills.
A Little Bit of Guidance Goes a Long Way
Importantly, compared to control parents and children, parents receiving brief but explicit
prompting to teach children about numbers talked more about two key math concepts (i.e.,
numeral identification and cardinal values), and their children gave more math-related responses
to parents’ math prompts than control families. Increasing parent math talk about cardinal values
is important because previous research has shown that this talk predicts children’s later
cardinality knowledge and math achievement more broadly (Casey et al., 2018; Gunderson &
Levine, 2011). Additionally, it is important for parents to support children’s numeral knowledge
because this skill has been shown to serve as the link between children’s informal and formal
mathematics knowledge (Purpura, Baroody, & Lonigan, 2013). Past work has also shown that
brief prompting to parents during board game play increases preschoolers’ responses to parent
guidance (Vandermaas-Peeler et al., 2012), and these findings have been recently extended to
spatial talk in museum contexts (Polinsky, Perez, Grehl, & McCrink, 2017).
Our guidance to parents did not promote all math talk types that we examined. This may
be because our suggestions were only applicable to certain math concepts. For example, our
guidance to name the numbers in the spaces and determine the number of spaces until the end
may have only prompted parent talk related to identifying the numbers on the spaces and
labeling the number of spaces until the characters reached the end space. Other work has
suggested that parents may not have a broad understanding of different math skills that their
children can develop, which suggests that parents in our study may have only increased talk
related to number concepts with which they were most familiar (Zippert & Ramani, 2017). Had
we given broader examples that covered a larger range of math concepts (e.g., add or subtract the
number of spaces each character is on to promote arithmetic talk), we may have encouraged
parents to talk more broadly about number and space in the experimental condition. Further,
recent research suggests that decontextualized prompting (i.e., providing information on how
parents can generally support a given math concept without using examples specific to the
activity at hand) might have helped parents be less confined to the specific suggestions we
provided, and even generalize them to new contexts (Borriello & Liben, 2017). An example
could include discussing how arithmetic skills might be supported during a different activity,
such as cooking (e.g., talking about how many eggs are in a dozen, how many are needed for a
recipe, and what the difference is).
Ultimately, our brief suggestions promoted quality tablet use according to recommended
learning principles for educational apps (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015). First, we encouraged parents
to establish the learning goal of teaching their child about numbers during the interaction by
increasing parent math talk (i.e., number identification and cardinal values). Second, we
promoted children’s engagement with the game’s math content and social interactions with their
parents through their math-related responses to increased parent math prompts. Finally, we
found evidence that parents’ math talk about counting was significantly related to their child’s
counting skills in the experimental condition. One potential explanation is that the manipulation
encouraged parents to be sensitive to their child’s abilities by adjusting their math talk to match
their child’s counting skills, though directionality of this effect cannot be confirmed given that
data were collected at a single timepoint.
Survey evidence suggests that the amount of time young children spend engaged with
mobile devices such as tablets has drastically increased in recent years from an average of 5
minutes per day in 2011 to 48 minutes per day in 2017 (Common Sense Media, 2017). What is
not known is whether children are playing with tablets independently or with others. Further, a
recent anaylsis of popular educational tablet games shows that most games do not provide
adequate scaffolding feedback that would allow children to learn from the games (Callaghan &
Reich, 2018). Guidance to parents may be especially critical to encourage them to engage and
scaffold their young child to learn from existing tablet games (Hirsh-Pasek et al., 2015).
Limitations and Future Directions
Next, we address some methodological limitations and provide next steps for future
research. First, the study involved a single visit with a relatively homogenous sample,
warranting replication with more observation periods and more diverse samples. Another
limitation is that although we theorized that parent math talk was influenced by children’s skills,
the reverse could have also been possible. Finally, although families reportedly had experience
using tablets at home, the experimental context may have altered parent-child math behaviors.
Thus, results should be replicated in the home context. Additional future steps could be to
examine whether brief prompts, like those we provided to parents, could be embedded into the
apps themselves, ultimately reducing the need for an onsite experimenter. Such prompts could be
included both in the beginning, to set the stage for math learning as a goal, and throughout game
play to encourage social interaction and meaningful and adaptive parent-driven engagement of
children in math content. We could then examine the long-term effects of such brief
manipulations on parent-child math talk as well as potential improvements in children’s
mathematical knowledge.
The early home environment can play a critical role in the development of early math
skills (Casey et al., 2018; del Río, Susperreguy, Strasser, & Salinas, 2017; Elliott, Braham, &
Libertus, 2017; Hart, Ganley, & Purpura, 2016; Zippert & Rittle-Johnson, 2018). Thus, much
can be learned about mathematics outside of school, such as during everyday traditional and
tablet-based activities with parents. Our study showed that playing a numerical board game on a
tablet app is a conducive context for facilitating parents’ and children’s talk about math concepts.
Further, through only brief experimenter prompts, we can increase parent math talk (in the form
of providing math information and asking math questions) about key number concepts (i.e.,
numeral identification and cardinal values) and children’s math-related responses.
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Table 1
Definitions of Parent and Child Math Talk Codes
Counting the spaces on the board in
sequences of two or more, or discussing
counting as a strategy.
“One, two,
Parent or child identifying a number on
the game board or parent prompting the
child to do so.
“The spinner
landed on four.”
Parent or child labeling the number of
objects in a set or parent prompting the
child to name a quantity.
“Four spaces.”
Parent or child compares two quantities,
makes a statement about relative
quantities, or parent asks child to
compare two numbers.
"That's a big
Reference to the physical location of a
game piece, specifically in reference to
other objects and the end of the game.
“I’m in front.”
Parent makes a statement about a math
concept to provide the child with
Parent asks the child a question or
prompts the child to perform a math
related skill.
Child makes an unprompted statement
about a math concept.
“I got a three.”
The child responds to a parent’s prompt
or question about a math skill.
Parent: “What
number did you
land on?”
Child: “Six.”
Note. Table and math codes were adapted from Ramani et al. (2015). Parent and child talk about
ordinal relations (e.g., number sequences) and arithmetic, and child talk about cardinal values, and
magnitude comparison were infrequently used among dyads and could not be reliably coded. For
every primary code applied to an utterance, a secondary code was also applied.
Table 2
Parent and Child Utterances by Condition
No Guidance
Parent Talk
Total Utterances
Total Math Utterances
Prop. Math Utterances
Number Identification
Cardinal Value
Magnitude Comparisons
Spatial Relations
Providing informationa
Child Talk
Total Utterances
Total Math Utterances
Prop. Math Utterances
Number Identification
Spatial Relations
p = .051, *p < .05, **p < .01. Notes. Asterisks and superscripts denote significant condition
differences. Prop. Math Utterances is the proportion of total utterances that were math-related. All
individual math and talk type codes are proportions of total utterances.
aProviding information, prompting, initiation, and response, were coded only for math-related
utterances, thus proportions reflect percent of total math utterances for parent or child.
Table 3
Partial Correlations Between Parents’ Math Talk and Children’s Numerical Knowledge
Children’s Numerical Knowledge
Rote Counting
Number Line Estimation
Parent Math Talk
Total Math Talk
Number Identification
Cardinal Value
Magnitude Comparison
Spatial Relations
*p < .05. Note. Partial correlations computed controlling for age and gender (df = 21 and 22 for
the control and guidance condition, respectively).
Figure 1. Example of a character’s first turn in the tablet computer game.
... Further, the talk that parents and children use while playing can enhance children's learning. For example, findings indicate that parental talk about numbers and math concepts during game play relates to children's math learning [16][17][18], and that children's talk about spatial concepts (e.g., shape, location, orientation) during play with math activities relates to their spatial and patterning abilities [19]. ...
... Despite receiving identical instructions and game materials, families had unique approaches to supporting their children's learning. Previous research has shown that caregivers adapt their mathematical talk to their child's individual skill level [19,51], which is one potential explanation for the variability in mathematical talk that we observed. ...
... In addition to positive, consistent patterns of caregiver mathematical talk over time, caregiver and child talk within condition and timepoint were also significantly and positively related. This provides additional evidence for caregivers' tailoring their feedback to their child's skill level and mathematical talk during gameplay, as has been demonstrated in previous work [19,52]. However, it is unclear whether caregivers adapt their talk to match their child's, children adapt their talk to match their caregivers', or perhaps most likely-caregivers and children both adapt their mathematical talk in conversation with one another. ...
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Recent meta-analyses have demonstrated a significant association between children’s early math achievement and their experiences with math at home, including their caregivers’ talk about math. However, few studies have investigated the relations between caregiver math talk and children’s learning with experimental designs. Eighty-six children (M = 5.0 years) and their caregivers were randomly assigned to play either a numeracy or a shape card game at home for six weeks. Data were collected on children’s number and shape knowledge and families’ math talk during gameplay. There was substantial participant attrition (42% did not return completed materials), however, both an intent-to-treat analysis of the sample that received study materials and a subgroup analysis of study completers showed that children who played the shape game significantly improved their shape naming and matching skills relative to children who played the number game. Children who played the number game did not significantly improve their numerical skills relative to children who played the shape game. Mathematical talk during gameplay varied between families but was correlated over time within families. Caregivers’ and children’s talk about matching cards by shape or color predicted children’s learning from the shape game. The results suggest that despite receiving uniform instructions and materials, there was significant variability in children’s home math experiences that predicted their learning from the card game.
... Another important facade in HME is parent math-talk, which refers to parents' use of math input like numbers, comparisons, etc., in direct or indirect math activities or daily exchanges [25]. Math-talk also contributes to children's math development [71]. Overall, research stresses the need to support HME, given its influence on young children's math development [23]. ...
... This is because tokens in traditional games cause more talk-aloud during interactions, and the additional images in apps distract the dyads [68]. Another takeaway is the need to provide parents with specific roles or explicit instructions [36,59,71]. Previous research also revealed the need to support parents in broaching math and science topics while engaging with STEM media like apps and videos [34]. ...
... This imposed some challenges for parents in providing the suggested magnitude understanding prompts [20]. Previous research reports increased math talk during a tablet game when parents were provided prompts before the study [71]. However, in our study, some participating parents forgot to integrate the prompts presented earlier by the researcher, which were also written in the activity booklets. ...
Conference Paper
Preschoolers’ early-math development is vital for their later math and academic achievement. Tangible user interfaces (TUI) may support early math as they feature physical objects imperative to math development and multimedia to support engagement. As a potentially meaningful context for TUIs, developmental studies highlight the need to support the home math environment (HME) that covers math-related interactions among parents and children. Therefore, we focus on HME as a design space that has not been investigated in TUI literature. We conducted an observational study involving physical-object based math activities and semi-structured interviews with 13 parent-child dyads. Our findings revealed the multifaceted nature of the HME, where children's agency is valued and providing lasting materials is challenging. Also, we realized that parents juggled their child's demands and the object-based physical activity at once. By reflecting on these findings, we propose design directions for supporting the home-math environment with TUIs.
... A broader definition of mathematical language was used by the second class of studies (Boonen et al., 2011;Jennings et al., 1992;Klibanoff et al., 2006;Son & Hur, 2020;Spreckelsen et al., 2019;Susperreguy & Davis-Kean, 2016;Zippert et al., 2019). ...
... Lastly, Zippert et al. (2019) showed that even a very brief instruction in mathematical language has positive effects on children's mathematical abilities. The authors used tablet play as their intervention, and they instructed one group of parents to engage in mathematical talk (i.e., guidance condition), while the control condition did not do so. ...
... All but one of the reviewed intervention studies (Zippert et al., 2019) used storybook reading. Prior research has demonstrated that storybooks are effective tools that promote rich mathematical discourses (Wasik & Bond, 2001). ...
It is well established that early general language during preschool is critical for children's mathematical abilities. In an attempt to further characterize this association between language and mathematics, an increasing number of studies show that one specific type of language, namely mathematical language or the key linguistic concepts that are required for performing mathematical activities, is even more critical to children's mathematical abilities. The purpose of this systematic review is to summarize the evidence on mathematical language and mathematical abilities. We focus on preschool children as nearly all of the existing work has been done at this age. We first explain how mathematical language has been defined across studies, and report how it has been evaluated in studies in preschool. Next, we present the results of our systematic review. Following the PRISMA guidelines and after a critical appraisal, we ended with a set of 18 papers that were all of sufficient methodological quality. In these studies, mathematical language was defined as terms that are about numbers and operations between numbers (e.g., nine), but also included linguistic terms that do not directly refer to numbers, yet are important to understand mathematical concepts (i.e., quantitative and spatial terms such as fewest and middle, respectively). Some of these studies evaluated children's performance on mathematical language tasks, while others evaluated the mathematical language input provided to the child by their (educational) environment (teachers/parents/interventionists). Mathematical language correlated positively with children's mathematical abilities, concurrently and longitudinally. It also directly affected children's mathematical abilities, as was shown by intervention studies. We discuss potential directions for future research and highlight implications for education, arguing for more support for teachers and parents to improve the use of mathematical language in the classroom and home settings.
... Accurate interpretation of treatment effects and recommendations related to generalization depend on adherence to the quantity and quality of intervention activities (Capin et al., 2018). A vast body of research shows that when given the opportunity to play board games (Laski & Siegler, 2007;Siegler & Ramani, 2009), read books focused on number concepts (Hendrix et al., 2019;Purpura et al., 2017), and engage with math education apps (Griffith et al., 2019;Zippert et al., 2019), children in both informal and formal learning environments increase their math knowledge. This is particularly true in the preschool years, which is encouraging because early math learning promotes greater achievement more broadly, such as in literacy and science (Duncan et al., 2007). ...
... Finally, the majority of the studies were conducted solely or partially in the home learning environment. Researchers have published math intervention studies conducted in other informal learning environments such as museums (e.g., Zippert et al., 2019) and grocery stores (e.g., Hanner et al., 2019); however, these studies did not meet inclusion criteria for a variety of reasons. The results of this meta-analysis may only generalize to interventions conducted, at least in part, in the home. ...
The purposes of this study included conducting a meta-analysis and reviewing the study reporting quality of math interventions implemented in informal learning environments (e.g., the home) by children's caregivers. This meta-analysis included 25 preschool to third-grade math interventions with 83 effect sizes that yielded a statistically significant summary effect (g = 0.26, 95% CI [0.07, 0.45) on children's math achievement. Significant mod-erators of the treatment effect included the intensity of caregiver training and type of outcome measure. There were larger average effects for interventions with caregiver training that included follow-up support and for outcomes that were comprehensive early numeracy measures. Studies met 58.0% of reporting quality indicators, and analyses revealed that quality of reporting has improved in recent years. The results of this study offer several recommendations for researchers and practitioners, particularly given the 1156182R ERXXX10.3102/00346543231156182Nelson et al.Short Title research-article2023
... A vocabulary play-based intervention for low-income preschoolers was also effective at promoting vocabulary growth when learning was scaffolded by an adult through guided play (Toub et al., 2018). In work with parents, preschoolaged children engaged in more math talk when parents were instructed to supplement a playful game with guided mathbased talk compared with parents who did not engage in math-related talk during the play activity (Zippert et al., 2019). When teaching preschoolers fractions, parents who taught using guided play practices reported just as much math talk and more joy compared with those who taught in ways reflecting direct instruction approaches (Eason and Ramani, 2018). ...
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What if the environment could be transformed in culturally-responsive and inclusive ways to foster high-quality interactions and spark conversations that drive learning? In this article, we describe a new initiative accomplishing this, called Playful Learning Landscapes (PLL). PLL is an evidence-based initiative that blends findings from the science of learning with community-based participatory research to transform physical public spaces and educational settings into playful learning hubs. Here, we describe our model for conducting this research, which is mindful of three key components: community input, how children learn best, and what children need to learn to be successful in the 21st century economy. We describe how this model was implemented in two PLL case studies: one in a predominantly Latine community and the second in early childhood education classrooms. Furthermore, we describe how research employing our model can be rigorously and reliably evaluated using observational and methodological tools that respond to diverse cultural settings and learning outcomes. For example, our work evaluates how PLL impacts adult–child interaction quality and language use, attitudes about play and learning, and community civic engagement. Taken together, this article highlights new ways to involve community voices in developmental and educational research and provides a model of how science can be translated into practice and evaluated in culturally responsive ways. This synthesis of our process and evaluation can be used by researchers, policymakers, and educators to reimagine early educational experiences with an eye toward the built environment that children inhabit in everyday life, creating opportunities that foster lifelong learning.
Young children’s math learning opportunities in families appear to relate to long-term math achievement and attitudes. While there is growing interest in promoting families’ support of children’s math learning, existing family math models do not fully capture sources of variation in how families support early math learning. We propose an expanded conceptual framework incorporating macrosystem and mesosystem dimensions, along with developmental considerations, that may influence family math engagement and children’s math learning. We use this framework to guide a systematic review on family math engagement from birth through early elementary school. Reviewing 194 articles from peer-reviewed journals, we asked three questions: 1) How do different aspects of family engagement relate to math outcomes? 2) What accounts for variation in family math engagement? and 3) What evidence is there for effective intervention approaches to support family math engagement? Building on prior models, we identify five facets of family engagement associated with children’s math learning, including math attitudes and expectations, math activities, math talk, the general home learning environment, and school involvement. We also identified sociocultural differences in family math engagement linked to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender. Finally, family math intervention studies showed some short-term, but limited long-term, benefits to math engagement and children’s math learning. Our review also identified gaps in the family math engagement literature, particularly in understanding family math engagement across contexts and development. We use our expanded framework to propose future research considering sociocultural, community, and developmental dimensions of family math engagement.
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Purpose Play is a powerful influence on children's learning and parents can provide opportunities to learn specific content by scaffolding children's play. Parent-child synchrony (i.e., harmony, reciprocity and responsiveness in interactions) is a component of parent-child interactions that is not well characterized in studies of play. Procedures We tested whether children's executive function relates to mother-child synchrony during physical and digital play in sixty mother-child dyads. Main findings Mother-child synchrony did not relate to children's executive function or differ by play type (physical, digital), though during digital play mother-child synchrony was higher for girls relative to boys. Conclusions The findings suggest that mother-child synchrony is not influenced by children's executive function and physical and digital play can be similarly beneficial in offering the opportunity for responsive, reciprocal, dynamic interactions. The sex difference suggests that further factors should be explored as influences of play synchrony
The argument running through this book is that numeracy is an applied form of literacy and that its teaching must be integrated into the repertoire of school practices. While there are obvious differences between literacy and numeracy, in the Early Years numeracy is inseparable from the teaching of literacy. This is the case in multilingual classrooms, and even more so in classrooms where cultural differences create barriers to learning.
The purpose of this mixed-method study was to investigate differences in parent-preschooler interactions when they played the same numeracy-related game using two formats, a technology-based electronic format and a non-technology traditional board format. Thirty-nine parent-preschooler dyads participated in the study. Two pre-determined coding schemes, Parental Scaffolding Behaviors and Mathematical Talk, provided the foundation for the quantitative analyses of the videos. Qualitative analysis of selected dyads provided greater in-depth understanding of the similarities and differences in parents’ performance of each coded scaffolding behavior. The MANOVA for Parental Scaffolding Behaviors showed that the frequencies for seven coded scaffolding behaviors were significantly higher in the board game condition. The MANOVA for Mathematical Talk revealed that although both parents and children engaged in more statements about naming numbers in the board condition, the difference across the two game formats was bigger for parents than for children. In addition, the frequencies of using statements about Counting, Using Spatial Words, and Estimating were significantly higher in the board game condition. Themes from qualitative analysis revealed parents’ different roles when using the two game formats, as well as the affordances of each format and their influence on parental scaffolding behaviors.
A growing body of theory and research in the last four decades supports the crucial role of active parental interactions in enhancing children’s cognitive development.
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The goal of the current study is to develop a more complete understanding of the early home math environment, encompassing both numeracy and non-numeracy aspects of that environment. Parents of preschoolers (n = 63) were surveyed about their support of three components of early mathematics knowledge (i.e., numeracy, spatial, and pattern) as well as parents’ math-related beliefs about themselves and their children. Children were administered a broad math knowledge assessment which included a numeracy subscale, and individual measures of spatial and patterning skills in the fall (concurrently). Broad math knowledge was measured again in the spring of the preschool year. Parents indicated providing some support of early math development through numeracy, spatial, and patterning activities, with a stronger emphasis on numeracy than pattern and space. Parents’ child-specific ability beliefs were related to their numeracy, pattern, and broad math support, while their parent-specific ability beliefs were related to their spatial support. Parent support was rarely linked to child skills, except that numeracy support related to concurrent numeracy knowledge. Findings suggest that although parents do support a broad range of early math skills at home, parents tend to prioritize supporting early numeracy. Parents’ beliefs, especially about their child’s academic abilities, may influence components of the early home math environment, but future research is needed to better understand the relations between parent’s academic beliefs and the home math environment they create.
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Ensuring that kindergarten children have a solid foundation in early numerical knowledge is of critical importance for later mathematical achievement. In this study, we targeted improving the numerical knowledge of kindergarteners (n = 81) from primarily low-income backgrounds using two approaches: one targeting their conceptual knowledge, specifically, their understanding of numerical magnitudes; and the other targeting their underlying cognitive system, specifically, their working memory. Both interventions involved playing game-like activities on tablet computers over the course of several sessions. As predicted, both interventions improved children’s numerical magnitude knowledge as compared to a no-contact control group, suggesting that both domain-specific and domain-general interventions facilitate mathematical learning. Individual differences in effort during the working memory game, but not the number knowledge training game predicted children’s improvements in number line estimation. The results demonstrate the potential of using a rapidly growing technology in early childhood classrooms to promote young children’s numerical knowledge.
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Students rarely practice math outside of school requirements, which we refer to as the “math-practice gap”. This gap might be the reason why students struggle with math, making it urgent to develop means by which to address it. In the current paper, we propose that math apps offer a viable solution to the math-practice gap: Online apps can provide access to a large number of problems, tied to immediate feedback, and delivered in an engaging way. To substantiate this conversation, we looked at whether tablets are sufficiently engaging to motivate children’s informal math practice. Our approach was to partner with education agencies via a community-based participatory research design. The three participating education agencies serve elementary-school students from low-SES communities, allowing us to look at tablet use by children who are unlikely to have extensive access to online math enrichment programs. At the same time, the agencies differed in several structural details, including whether our intervention took place during school time, after school, or during the summer. This allowed us to shed light on tablet feasibility under different organizational constraints. Our findings show that tablet-based math practice is engaging for young children, independent of the setting, the student’s age, or the math concept that was tackled. At the same time, we found that student engagement was a function of the presence of caring adults to facilitate their online math practice.
Over half of educational apps on mobile-app markets are for preschoolers, but little research has examined whether the designs of preschool apps are truly educational. Preschoolers process information differently from older learners (i.e., shorter attention spans), so app designs should be guided by developmental science. This content analysis of popular Apple and Android math and literacy preschool apps uses a developmental framework to code and analyze apps’ educational features. Findings show a wide variety of features apps used. However, few provided developmentally appropriate guidance, like scaffolded feedback. This study offers insights for improving apps to meaningfully teach preschoolers.
INTRODUCTION. The early home environment is critical for laying a strong numerical foundation for young children’s development. Participation in math-related informal learning activities in the home is associated with caregiver and child talk about math; however, it is unclear which activities promote different types of math talk. METHOD. We observed whether the math talk that 33 families from low-income backgrounds from the United States engaged in varied across three math-related activities – book reading, puzzle solving, and board game play. Math talk was coded into five categories: counting, numeral identification, cardinality, ordinal relations, and arithmetic. RESULTS. There was substantial variability in the amount of caregiver and child math talk. The amount and types of math talk caregivers and children engaged in varied by activity. Of the three activities, the board game elicited the most math talk. The most frequent type of talk during an activity corresponded to the specific numerical content embedded in each activity. DISCUSSION. Findings suggest that caregivers are responding to the play context when engaging in math-related informal learning activities. Understanding factors that influence math talk could inform the type of activities used in future home-based interventions aimed at reducing the gap in early mathematical understanding between children from lower-and higher-income backgrounds in the United States.
Geometric forms have formal definitions. While knowing shape names is considered important for school-readiness, many children do not understand the defining features of shapes until well into elementary school (Satlow & Newcombe, 1998). One reason is likely that they do not encounter enough variety in the shapes they see (Resnick, Verdine, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2016). The present study observed 60 parents and their 3-year-old children during play with geometric toys, exploring how spatial language varied with the nature of the shape-toy set (canonical shapes versus a mix of canonical and unusual or less-canonical variants) and whether geometric shapes were presented as tangible, traditional toys or shown on a touchscreen tablet app. Although children in the app condition heard more shape names than the other conditions due to the language produced by the app itself, children used more overall words and more spatial language with tangible toys that included varied shapes. In addition, parents used more shape names with sons than with daughters and tended to adjust their use of spatial language more in response to varied shape sets with boys, although these findings need replication to evaluate generality. These data suggest that including non-canonical shapes in tangible shape toys may provide a low-cost, high-impact way of refining adult-child interactions that might facilitate children’s early geometric knowledge.
The goal of this study was to examine maternal support of spatial concept learning and planning at 36 months as predictors of children’s math achievement at 4 ½ years and first grade. Observational measures of videotaped mother-child interactions from the Boston site of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (N = 140) were used to examine the effectiveness of support for spatial concept learning and planning during a block building play activity. Trained observers rated maternal support of children’s learning of spatial concepts through spatial language and gestures, with higher ratings involving explanations and encouragement of children’s use of spatial concepts. This measure was predictive of math achievement at 4 ½ years when controlling for length of the parent-child observation, child gender, ethnicity, and IQ at 2 years, as well as maternal years of education, verbal intelligence, income-to-needs averaged from 1 to 36 months, parenting stress, general cognitive stimulation, and maternal support of numerical concepts during the same observation. Maternal support of children’s planning skills, also rated by trained observers during the block building activity, involved identifying incremental steps to reach the block building goal, with higher ratings given for encouraging planning on the part of the child. This measure was predictive of math achievement at 4 ½ years, as well as reading achievement at both 4 ½ years and first grade, suggesting that maternal planning support has associations with the two key measures of school readiness, while maternal spatial support may be specific to mathematics.
Longitudinal spatial language intervention studies have shown that greater exposure to spatial language improves children's performance on spatial tasks. Can short naturalistic, spatial language interactions also evoke improved spatial performance? In this study, parents were asked to interact with their child at a block wall exhibit in a children's museum. Some parents were instructed to emphasize formal shape terms, others to emphasize spatial goals, and some were not provided scripts. Children were presented with a series of spatial reasoning tasks before and after this parental interaction, and the amount and type of spatial language during the training session was coded for parents and children. We found that (a) parents significantly increased their spatial language use when prompted, (b) children and parents used different types of spatial language in each of the scripted conditions, and (c) children's spatial language during the interaction, and not parents', predicts children's subsequent improved puzzle performance.
The current study analyzed maternal and paternal differential influences on numeracy performance in kindergarten children. Participants were 180 Chilean children from backgrounds of low and high socioeconomic status (SES), their mothers, and their fathers. A path analysis was used to explore the influences of both maternal and paternal numeracy practices on children’s numeracy performance and the influences of maternal and paternal expectations and anxiety on those activities. Research Findings: Results showed that mothers and fathers who endorse higher numeracy expectations for their children and who report lower levels of math anxiety also report engaging more frequently in advanced numeracy practices with their children. Mothers’—but not fathers’—engagement in numeracy practices at home predicted children’s numeracy performance. Also, low-SES mothers engaged more frequently in numeracy practices with their children, and mothers in general engaged more often in numeracy activities with girls than with boys. Practice or Policy: These findings improve understanding of how maternal and paternal processes relate differently to numeracy performance in kindergarten children. Moreover, these results highlight the need to take into account parents’ numeracy attitudes and practices, as well as their SES, when designing interventions directed at increasing family support for math achievement.