Email Print Share

"Talking Numbers" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

The amount of time parents spend talking about numbers has a much bigger impact on how young children learn mathematics than was previously known, researchers at the University of Chicago have found.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: kids playing) Kids by the Numbers.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

New study out of the University of Chicago that says you may have a big impact on your child's understanding of mathematics -- if as toddlers you simply talk to them more about numbers. What -- a little Pythagorean theorem with their pablum? No, just simple numbers-based references in everyday situations -- like saying "there are three blocks on the floor." Most toddlers can spout back a string of numbers but eventually having them recognize a set of three is more abstract and much more valuable to their overall understanding.

The study showed that while they might not always grasp the total concept, simply exposing the child to more number references seems to help them make connections and get a leg up on their peers who aren't getting as much number talk.

The team studied tapes of parents individually interacting with their child for about 90 minutes. Some had as few as four number references in that time -- others as many as 257. When tested later, the kids with more number references from parents were more likely to respond correctly when shown a set of, say, five squares and four squares, and asked to "point to five."

Previous tests have shown that by the time children enter preschool, they already show marked individual differences in their mathematical knowledge. This new research points out that early number talk may really count in their development.

By the way, we're brought to you today by the number five.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.