According to a new University of Connecticut (UConn) study, titled “Maternal Support of Children’s Math Learning in Associations Between Family Income and Math School Readiness,” conducted by Caitlin Lombardi, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Sciences, and Eric Dearing, professor of Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology at Boston College and senior researcher at the Norwegian Center for Child Behavioral Development at the University of Oslo, family income has some effect on students' math skills when they start school.
The scientists analyzed the level of mothers' support of their 3-year-old kids' math learning in order to measure the correlation between family income and children's abilities in mathematics at 4 and a half and 6-7 years. “Results suggest that income-based gaps in counting and calculation skills at school entry may be due in part to the constraints that low family income places on early numerical learning support,” stated the researchers.
Kids develop many complex math skills between birth and age 5, like learning that numbers represent quantities of objects, the labels for numbers, how to count, add and subtract, as well as spatial skills and mental rotation that allow them to solve math problems without counting.
Generally, girls and boys begin kindergarten with similar math skills. Yet, by the end of elementary school, boys tend to have better math and spatial skills than their female peers. One explanation for that is the difference in expectations of boys and girls; moreover it seems that boys develop more advanced rotation skills in the early years because they're given more exposure to blocks, bricks and other building tools versus more feminine materials, such as dolls, used by their female peers.
Spatial skills being essential to solve higher-level math problems efficiently, makes it not surprising that boys end up to achieve better in this domain. There's also some evidence of gender differences in the ways fathers and mothers support their daughters and sons in math. Research has shown that dads support their kids' skills in different ways than moms, and that a father's support, or lack of it, is highly predictive of his child's skills.
Picture: A UConn researcher discusses the ways that socioeconomic disparities can affect children's math development (Getty Images, w/Effects)