$2.1 million to understand children’s problems with math


Researchers at the University of Missouri have won a four-year, $2.1 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish the Learning Disabilities Innovation Hub to better understand how the school and home environment may influence children’s risk of developing long-term difficulties with mathematics. The current project follows a six-year study that found a link between preschoolers’ early knowledge of numbers and literacy in math skills, said David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at the College of University of Missouri Arts and Sciences.


“Our previous findings identified critical skills for math readiness – such as understanding quantities associated with number words and how to count – and suggested that children who do not acquire this knowledge early in the first year of kindergarten start with a delay  in math early in first grade,” Geary said. And if they already start behind, it means that they will probably stay behind for the whole school career”. The age at which this knowledge is acquired makes a difference, because subsequent learning does not take place without it. This observation prompted us to design the current project to better understand the reason for this change”.

The project focuses on identifying various factors – both at home and in the classroom – that can influence a child’s early learning of mathematical skills. To this end, the researchers will test preschoolers’ math skills seven times over the course of two years of kindergarten, including cognitive skills such as memory. Over the same period of time, they will receive four reports from teachers on each child’s attention span in class. In addition, they will make four direct observations in class. In addition to the school-based components, researchers will conduct three home assessments for each preschooler, over the course of two years, to determine the influence of parents or guardians on the child’s readiness to learn mathematics. “The home assessments will measure parents’ knowledge of math and reading skills so they get a sense of what they bring into interactions with their children at home,” Geary said. “Furthermore, in both years we will record children and parents interacting during a birthday party, because this type of interaction tends to produce numbers talk. We will then analyze the videos to see how these interactions affect the child’s development during the two years of kindergarten.”

Geary hopes to recruit a total of 150 children and families to participate in the project. Participants will be recruited from the Title 1 preschool program of Columbia Public Schools, Missouri. “By identifying key predictors of knowledge, acquisition and progression, we will be well positioned to develop targeted interventions, including aspects of home, school, and individual or personalized components,” Geary said.


  • Early Conceptual Understanding of Cardinality Predicts Superior School-Entry Number-System Knowledge (
  • Researchers using $2.1 million grant to identify differences in preschoolers’ math skills


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