Spatial, written language skills predict math competence

October 22, 2013

Early math skills are emerging as important to later academic achievement. As many countries seek to strengthen their workforces in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, understanding the early contributions to math skills becomes increasingly vital. New longitudinal research from Finland has found that children's early spatial skills and knowledge of written letters, rather than oral language skills, predict competence in this area.

The research also found that children's ability to count sequences of numbers serve as a bridge: Children with stronger early and knowledge of written letters did better in counting sequences of numbers; such skill in counting was related to later competence in general.

Published in the journal Child Development, the study was conducted by researchers at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, and the Niilo Mäki Institute and the University of Jyväskylä, both in Finland.

"Our results provide strong evidence that children's early acquisition of written language, spatial, and number skills forms important foundations for the development of their competence in math in the elementary years," according to Xiao Zhang, assistant professor of psychology at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, who led the study. Spatial skills involve the ability to understand problems that relate to physical spaces, shapes, and forms.

"As a practical matter, programs that build young children's spatial and written language skills might help accelerate subsequent number-related knowledge and, in turn, the development of competence in math."

Researchers tested the linguistic and spatial skills of 1,880 Finnish children in kindergarten, gauging their awareness of phonetics, knowledge of letters and vocabulary, and understanding of spatial relations. Then they tested the children's math performance on paper-and-pencil tests from first to third grade. With a randomly selected group of about 375 children from the initial group, the researchers also tested how well the children could count numbers in forward and backward sequences when they were in first grade.

Children with better skills (those with more knowledge of written letters) not only had stronger math competence at the start of first grade, but advanced more rapidly in math through third grade. In contrast, children with strong oral language skills were not more likely to show strong math ability later.

Spatial skills also were found to predict children's development in math: Children with better spatial skills had stronger competence in math in first grade and later had more growth over time. And spatial and written improved the development of math by enhancing 's knowledge of sequential counting.

Related Stories

Spatial training boosts math skills

June 25, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Training young children in spatial reasoning can improve their math performance, according to a groundbreaking study from Michigan State University education scholars.

Recommended for you

Neural efficiency hypothesis confirmed

July 27, 2015

One of the big questions intelligence researchers grapple with is just how differences in intelligence are reflected in the human brain. Researchers at ETH Zurich have succeeded in studying further details relating to suspected ...

Fatherhood makes men fat

July 21, 2015

All those leftover pizza crusts you snatch from your kids' plates add up. Men gain weight after they become fathers for the first time whether or not they live with their children, reports a large, new Northwestern Medicine ...

Words jump-start vision, psychologist's study shows

July 21, 2015

Cognitive scientists have come to view the brain as a prediction machine, constantly comparing what is happening around us to expectations based on experience—and considering what should happen next.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.