The role of early self-regulation in children's math development

Year: 2014

Author: Kate E, Williams, Amy, MacDonald, Sonia, White

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Skills in mathematics are increasingly crucial to educational and career success across the lifespan (Geary, 2013). Mathematics achievement in the prior-to-school years increases a child's potential for later school achievement across academic subjects (Romano, Kohen, Babchishin, & Pagini, 2010). Children who enter school with high levels of mathematical knowledge tend to maintain these throughout their education (Klibanoff, 2006). It is therefore important to understand the early precursors to mathematic development in young children. Recent research has begun to identify the role that self-regulation may play in children's mathematical learning (Bull & Lee, 2014) with most of this work focussed on 4- to 6-year-old children. This study extends on these findings by investigating the extent to which earlier self-regulation (at 2-3-years-old) influences mathematic achievement four years later. Specifically, this study investigates the role of classroom self-regulation in this pathway. Participants were 2393 children involved in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) Birth Cohort. Structural equation modelling revealed that mother-reported emotional and attentional regulation at 2-3 years predicted teacher-reported mathematics achievement at 6-7 years over and above the effects of socio-economic status and children's fluid intelligence. This direct effect was completely mediated by teacher-reported classroom self-regulation when it was included in the final model and shown to be the strongest predictor of mathematics. The findings confirm that developmental pathways involving children's self-regulation are more important for mathematic achievement than fluid intelligence. Given that the nature of mathematical tasks involving problem-solving, working memory, and cognitive flexibility challenge children's self-regulatory capacities, we propose that they offer an ideal opportunity in which to support and scaffold these self-regulation skills. We call for a new approach to early years mathematic education with a focus on embedding self-regulatory support and development within mathematical activities. References Bull, R., & Lee, K. (2014). Executive functioning and mathematics achievement. Child Development Perspectives, 8, 36-41. doi:10.1111/cdep.12059 Geary, D. C. (2013). Early foundations for mathematics learning and their relations to learning disabilities. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(1), 23-27. doi:10.1177/0963721412469398 Klibanoff, R. (2006). Preschool children's mathematical knowledge: The effect of teacher "math talk". Developmental Psychology, 42, 59-69. Romano, E., Babchishin, L., Pagani, L.S., & Kohen, D. (2010). School readiness and later achievement: Replication and extension using a nationwide Canadian survey. Developmental Psychology, 46, 995-1007.