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.

Explore further: Playing with blocks may help children's spatial and math thinking

Related Stories

Playing with blocks may help children's spatial and math thinking

September 24, 2013
Playing with blocks may help preschoolers develop the kinds of skills that support later learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), according to a new study by researchers at the University of Delaware ...

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.

Preschoolers' counting abilities relate to future math performance, researcher says

November 8, 2012
Along with reciting the days of the week and the alphabet, adults often practice reciting numbers with young children. Now, new research from the University of Missouri suggests reciting numbers is not enough to prepare children ...

Early learning about spatial relationships boosts understanding of numbers

June 13, 2012
Children who are skilled in understanding how shapes fit together to make recognizable objects also have an advantage when it comes to learning the number line and solving math problems, research at the University of Chicago ...

Kids with autism outperformed others on math test, study found

August 16, 2013
(HealthDay)—Children with autism and average IQs consistently did better on math tests than non-autistic children in the same IQ range, according to a small new study.

Recommended for you

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Do all people experience similar near-death-experiences?

July 26, 2017
No one really knows what happens when we die, but many people have stories to tell about what they experienced while being close to death. People who have had a near-death-experience usually report very rich and detailed ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

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.