Which is More Important for Preschoolers, Math or Reading?
We all know math is important. But, exactly how important is it compared to other school subjects such as reading and writing? You might be surprised to learn it's actually the most important early indicator as to how well a younger student will do in later grades. According to a report by the Education Commission of the States, "While the emphasis on reading proficiency is critical, research shows that the development of mathematics skills early on may be an even greater predictor of later school success. Early knowledge of math not only predicts later success in math, but also predicts later reading achievement even better than early reading skills."
The earliest years for a child - from birth to third grade - are a hugely critical period of development, setting the foundation for future learning. Preschool mathematics knowledge strongly predicts achievement in third through fifth grade, and even reaches into high school. The incredible part is that studies show that promoting math in those early school years will improve vocabulary and grammatical complexity even better than early reading.
During those early preschool years, children are using math in ways that would surprise most adults. They have a higher capacity for numbers and are using higher-level mathematical thinking during their free play than we often realize. For example, one report shows that as preschoolers build towers out of blocks, they're using forms of math sense such as:
- Classification: Sorting by size and shape
- Magnitude: Using comparative words like "higher" and "more than"
- Enumeration: Counting and using numbers
- Patterns and shapes: Forming blocks into intentional shapes or color patterns
- Spatial reason: Referring to concepts like "over" and "through"
Children have more interest and a broader foundation for learning a higher level of math at a younger age than we usually give them credit for. As parents and educators, are we doing enough to stimulate our kids in the area of math? Are we meeting their potential? Are we focusing on the right things, when it comes to helping our children grow? Lowell Kumon Math and Reading Center Owner Srividya Venkatasubramanya says people often ask her "why is the U.S. behind in mathematics?" "It's because we're not focusing on it," she explains. "Parents have enrichment activities for their kids in dance, swim, baseball... but not for academics. Kids are very busy with sports; they're working hard, they should apply it to enriching math."
All children need math intervention, not just the kids who are struggling below grade level or the ones who show special interest. Considering the studies that have surfaced in the last few years, we know that even as preschoolers, kids have the capacity to process mathematical thinking and that focusing on math will greatly impact their education later on. There's no debating that a strong foundation in reading has to start early and is essential to a student's future success, however, it's time to bring math up to that level of importance, if not more, and give it the attention it deserves.