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Building Early Math Skills Key To Later Academic Success

December 7, 2015

Heart Math Tutoring volunteers with students

Too Small To Fail conducted a Q&A with Deborah J. Stipek, dean of Stanford Graduate School of Education, on the importance of introducing children to math concepts early. Read that interview here, which includes tips and resources for parents.

The importance of early, hands-on experiences with numbers helps explain why Heart’s intervention is necessary and gives the rationale for some aspects of the program.

Heart Math Tutoring volunteer with studentChildren learn best during playful, everyday activities, like counting their toes, the buttons on their shirt, the steps they walk up. They can be asked to count out how many forks are needed to help set the table. Shape hunts through the house can be fun (the clock is a circle; the TV is a rectangle). Children can learn about the importance of numbers by doing a number hunt, with a discussion of how the numbers on the telephone, clock, or elevator are useful.” – Deborah J. Stipek

Many Heart students did not have the hands-on experiences with numbers described above. Heart uses tutoring manipulates (Connecting Cubes, dice, cards) to create “playful, everyday activities.” We ask tutors to make sure students are the ones touching and moving the objects, even if it takes more time and patience on the tutor’s part. This way, students’ time in Heart attempts to compensate for some of the lack of hands-on experiences with numbers in early ages and at home.

As Heart prepares hosts eight holiday events for parents through Dec. 18, the research and ideas cited in the Q&A with Stipek are a reminder that math can be practiced at home in everyday situations.

Heart Math Tutoring volunteer with studentThe article goes on to further emphasize the importance of reducing math anxiety through “playful opportunities to develop math skills.” Heart lessons add elements of surprise, competition, or tracking points to keep an element of FUN in simple tasks!

Billingsville teacher Amanda Saunders remarked that sometimes students enjoy the time with Heart tutors so much that they don’t even realize they are practicing math skills that have been very difficult for them in the past.

“Some of the biggest needs that I see from the kids is not necessarily even always academic but sometimes it’s just that moral support or having someone that they know is going to be there for them consistently a couple of times a week. A lot of times the kids don’t even pick up on the fact that they really are working on things academically that they need.” – Amanda Saunders, second grade teacher, Billingsville Leadership Academy

A 2013 study by University of California-Irvine found that “math knowledge at the beginning of elementary school was the single most powerful predictor determining whether a student would graduate from high school and attend college.” This 3 -minute NPR audio clip also mentions that meta-cognition (thinking about your thinking) and asking students to explain their reasoning strengthens students’ verbal skills.

“We talk a lot about literacy, but not nearly as much about math.… Several studies show that children’s math skills when they enter school are very strong predictors of their academic success later on. One study showed that math skills upon kindergarten entry predicted children’s reading abilities in third grade as well as their reading skills at kindergarten entry. While children can learn beginning math skills after they enter kindergarten, they will be at a disadvantage.” – Deborah J. Stipek

The achievement gap begins before kindergarten not only in reading but in math, as well, and early math skills predict later academic success.


Blog post by Emily Elliott, executive director of Heart Math Tutoring.

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