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Preschoolers Who Practice Phonics Show Stronger Math Skills, Study Finds


July 3, 2019
Sarah Schwartz
Education Week

Young children who spend more time learning about the relationship between letters and sounds are better at counting, calculating, and recognizing numbers, a new study has found.

Researchers from Liverpool John Moores University in England looked at the reading and math learning experiences that young children have at home with parents. They asked the parents of 274 preschoolers—children who were on average about 4 years old—how often they did different educational activities with their kids.

These activities were split into three categories: code-focused literacy experiences (including singing songs about letters or the alphabet, or teaching kids how to sound out words), meaning-focused literacy experiences (such as discussing the plot of stories or describing pictures), and number experiences (like discussing quantities of things, or pointing out numbers in books or the environment). The researchers also measured parents’ attitudes about math.

At the end of their last year of preschool, researchers tested students’ early number skills. Among all of the factors researchers asked parents about, only practice with letter-sound interactions positively predicted children’s ability to count, calculate, and recognize numbers, when controlling for other factors including socioeconomic status. Number experiences didn’t predict this variance. And other code-focused literacy activities that didn’t focus on letter sounds—for example, reciting the alphabet—also didn’t have the same effect.