Every child should have the opportunity to enjoy rich, engaging, and culturally responsive mathematics learning that prepares them for success in school, careers, and life. Yet, too often young children do not have access to high-quality, meaningful opportunities to engage with mathematical concepts, either at home or in preschool settings. Because of this opportunity gap, many children from under-resourced communities start kindergarten behind their peers, making preschool learning environments a critical target of interventions.
Young Mathematicians (YM), a program of research at EDC, promotes the mathematics skills of preschool children and supports teachers and families in engaging in high-quality mathematical interactions through games and problem-solving stories. By giving young children meaningful and enriching math experiences at school and at home, YM builds a firm foundation for later math learning, advances equity in children’s long-term educational outcomes, and ensures children of all backgrounds are confident mathematics learners.
In the first phase of YM, EDC researchers and professional developers conducted the following activities:
- In partnership with eight Head Start programs across New England, carefully developed and tested the YM program over a period of five years
- Using games as a foundation for learning, developed a classroom intervention with input from over 100 Head Start teachers that includes:
- A set of instructional materials (www.ym.edc.org)
- Seven classroom mathematics games
- A 14-hour, seven-session teacher professional learning course
- A teacher resource guide with resources, such as About the Math, Math Look-fors, and Book Links
- Developed a family engagement professional learning component that supports teachers in sharing mathematics-related activities with families that promote number talk at home through:
- Four bilingual family mathematics games
- 13 family mathematics mini-books
- Text messages with everyday math ideas
- Addressed teacher, family, and child attitudes toward mathematics so that all children see themselves as mathematics learners
- Identified effective ways to intentionally incorporate mathematics games into classroom and family routines
- Conducted an experimental randomized controlled trial (RCT) field study (in 2016–2017) of the cross-context early mathematics intervention engaging teachers, families, and children from 66 diverse Head Start preschool classrooms (where 65% of children identified as Hispanic/Latinx)
- The project reached 800 preschoolers and 85 teachers in Head Start Centers.
- The team shared findings in numerous publications, including Teaching Young Children (e.g., “Now Read This! Pattern Books,” “Pattern Block Puzzles,” “Fun, Easy Ways to Play with Math at Home,” “Encouraging Persistence and Positive Attitudes toward Math,” “Explore Numbers and Counting with Dot Cards and Finger Games”); the Development and Research in Early Math Education Blog (“Math Games to Excite Young Minds”); and Issues & Insights (“The Simple Fun of Math Games”).
- The cross-context intervention (classroom + family math) had a statistically significant effect on Head Start preschoolers’ mathematics learning, teachers’ instructional practice, and families’ attitudes toward mathematics.
- The cross-context intervention was particularly effective for older preschoolers’ (50+ months) mathematics learning, with an effect size of d = 39.
- The project produced a low-cost, developmentally appropriate, coordinated school and home cross-context intervention that successfully increased the mathematics knowledge of diverse young children from low-income backgrounds.
- Findings from this study are helping preschool teachers identify simple but powerful ways to enhance mathematics instruction. They are also relevant to policymakers looking to better prepare students for mathematics success in grades K–12.