Pre-school children's skills in patterning, comparing quantities and counting objects were stronger predictors of their math achievement in fifth grade than other skills, say researchers.
The study showed that pre-school math skills supported first-grade math skills, which in turn supported fifth-grade math knowledge.
‘Counting, calculating, and understanding written numbers already get a lot of attention from teachers and parents, for good reasons.’
By first grade, patterning remained important and understanding written numbers and calculating emerged as important predictors of later achievement.
But, because not all types of math knowledge were equally important, certain early math topics should get more attention than they currently do, the researchers said.
"Counting, calculating, and understanding written numbers already get a lot of attention from teachers and parents, for good reasons," said lead author Bethany Rittle-Johnson, Professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, US.
"However, comparing quantities may merit more attention in pre-school and patterning knowledge may merit more attention in both pre-school and the early elementary grades," Rittle-Johnson added.
The findings suggest that educators and school administrators may want to consider carefully which areas of math study should they shift attention to as they develop curricula for the early years.
For the study, the team followed 517 low-income children aged between 4-11.
Determining how to help children achieve in math is important, particularly for children from low-income families who often enter school with weaker math knowledge than their peers, the researchers suggested.
The study appeared in the journal Child Development.