Parents: Reading is great (!), but math is your friend, too

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Spotlight on Parenting Research: Boost Math Skills by Engaging Children in the Home

Why Math, Why?

If you are like me, you may have started to read parenting books while pregnant. Then, if you are like me, you may have tossed all of your parenting books out the window when you realized there was nothing in the book to prepare you for your new and exciting (albeit sleep deprived) journey into parenthood. Regardless, most parenting books do a thorough job of explaining the importance of reading to your child, which is good because there is no question about the benefits of reading to your child (especially at an early age). There is actually a shocking amount of information on Google (approximately 390,000,000 entries – in case you are wondering) regarding the importance of reading. I especially love the tips for parents that insist you do not worry about reading every word on the page, and instead encourage your child to turn the pages at their own free will. Can I just say…this is incredibly difficult for my neurotic mindset. Let me finish the last word on the page, child!

While there is a lot of support for parents in promoting early literacy, there is less information and less support when we think about early math, but as it turns out, math is important too (shocking!). Mention math to parents and you may be witness to a heavy sigh that inherently drums up dormant childhood nightmares of long division, imaginary numbers, probabilities and the all time fan favorite…fractions. Math can be really hard, but let’s just take a second and transport ourselves back to the kindergarten classroom. 

Remember that time when you were treated to an activity with those small dixie cups and piles of colorful (and delicious) M&Ms? We sorted, we counted, and then we ate. Life was good. Let’s just live in that little memory bubble for the duration of this post…and also, let’s just pretend that I don’t pull out my phone to do basic math… hah, just kidding. Everyone does that.

Because the Research Says So

Researchers at Purdue University have recently finished up a study looking at the benefits of early math and literacy skills for preschool children. Participants included 114 preschool aged children and their parents. Parents were asked to report how often they engaged in early math and literacy activities with their child by answering questions such as “…how often did you and your child engage in the following activities?” and then rating on a scale of never (0) to multiple times per day (5). In both fall and spring, researchers visited classrooms to measure children’s early math and literacy skills. The idea was that researchers could test whether engagement in early math and early literacy activities in the home (with parents) was having any impact on how children performed on assessments measuring these different skill sets. According to lead researcher, Amy Napoli, a doctoral student at Purdue University,  “Exposure to basic numbers and math concepts at home were predictive, even more so than storybook reading or other literacy-rich interactions, of improving preschool children’s general vocabulary.”

While researchers acknowledge that more work needs to be done in this area, these findings indicate that young children benefit when parents engage them in activities that promote early math skills. In fact, engaging in math activities may actually help children with both math and literacy skills. According to the researchers, this is likely due to the amount of language inherently tied up in exposing children to early math. For example, when you ask children to place all of the lion cookies on one side of the plate, and all of the monkey cookies on the other, and then ask them to count the cookies on either side, you are asking them to engage both language and math skills – bingo!

By incorporating basic math in our conversations, young children are practicing complex language skills and we are opening up more opportunities for dialogue and communication.

A Few Go-To Resources

Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there were a few child books that also included math concepts too? You’re in luck, there are. Here are a few to try out:

Also, check out this resource from National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website for a few activities to try out in the home or on the go.

The Big Takeaway

Reading is super important (do it often!), but math is too, and it can be fun to think of new ways to include math concepts in your conversations and the activities that you do with your child. *Bonus: maybe along the way, you can rekindle your love for math – just kidding: there aren’t enough M&Ms in the world for that. #BEthePARENT


Holland, S. [simoncholland]. (2015, August 12). Just sent my daughter & her math homework into a clothing store at the mall because people there are always asking if they can help you [Tweet]. Retrieved from

Napoli, A. R., & Purpura, D. J. (2018). The home literacy and numeracy environment in preschool: Cross-domain relations of parent–child practices and child outcomes. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166, 581-603.

Purdue University. “Engaging children in math at home equals a boost in more than just math skills.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2017. <>.

To Cite This Post:

Lewis, K. (2018, January 30). Parents: Reading is great (!), but math is your friend, too [Blog post]. Retrieved from

About the Author

Karley Lewis is a member of the OSU Parenting Education Team at Oregon State University, which supports the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC). She holds a Masters degree in Psychological Science from California State University, Chico. Karley is a new-ish mom who is having fun trying to learn the ropes of parenting. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with family, playing a mean game of coed softball, painting and exploring the food and fun of Corvallis. To contact her, please email:


*Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative or Oregon State University.

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