community (Weiss, Caspe, and Lopez, 2006; Woods and Kurtz-Costes, 2007). Parents have different attitudes, values, and beliefs in raising young children, which result in difference emphasis on educational activities in the home. Families support mathematics learning through their activities at home, conversations, attitudes, materials they provide to their children, expectations they have about their performance, the behaviors they model, and the games they play. Parents also build connections with their children’s educational settings—all of which can shape children’s early mathematics development.
Although there are only a few empirical studies about parental beliefs and behaviors related to early mathematics, those that exist suggest that parents place more importance on literacy development (Barbarin et al., 2008). Barbarin and colleagues examined the beliefs of parents whose children were enrolled in public prekindergarten regarding the skills children need to be prepared for school. Mathematical skills and such tasks as counting were rated less important than other social and cognitive tasks. Specifically, language/early literacy was mentioned 50 percent of the time, whereas numeracy was mentioned only 3.5 percent of the time (Barbarin et al., 2008). Similarly, Cannon and Ginsburg (2008) found that mothers thought it was more important that their children learn daily living skills and develop language skills in preschool than that their children learn mathematical skills. Most mothers in the study reported they themselves spent more time teaching their children language skills than mathematics skills at home.
Children’s mathematical competence is supported and shaped by the math-related activities they engage in as part of their daily lives (Benigno and Ellis, 2008). Parenting practices in which parents engage children in conversations about number concepts, play with puzzles and shapes, encourage counting, and use number symbols to represent quantity in their interactions in the physical world can facilitate mathematics learning (see Box 4-1 for examples of how parents can engage children in mathematics activities). Acquiring mathematics knowledge involves more than learning numbers. It also includes learning shapes and patterns. It is facilitated by conversations about what children are doing when they compute, solve puzzles, and develop patterns and discussions of why they took a particular approach to a problem.
In fact, one study demonstrates how parents and their children can engage in mathematics-related activities. In a groundbreaking study of