1, 2, 3, 4: Research highlights importance of creating math-friendly environment for kids

Counting out objects in the grocery store, adding up all their toys, subtracting how many cookies they have left -- there are lots of math-related activities that parents already do at home with their little ones.

But there are many more things parents can do to support math learning that go beyond counting to one, two, three.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University surveyed parents of preschoolers about a wide variety of activities they do at home with their children. They found that when it comes to early math development, greater emphasis is placed on early numeracy, or the ability to count and compare numbers. But developmental psychologist Dr. Bethany Rittle-Johnson, said :"there’s more to math than numbers.”

She saidthere are everyday activities that parents can do to broaden their preschooler’s math knowledge of not only numbers but also spatial skills.

“That includes things like building with blocks and Legos and doing puzzles and using lots of spatial words like up and beside and under,” Rittle-Johnson said.

Another math skill parents can work on with their children is patterning. Researchers also found that parents’ beliefs about their child’s math skills related to the type of support they provided.

“If they thought their children were better in numbers, they were doing more number activities with their children," Rittle-Johnson said. "And if they thought their children were better at making and thinking about patterns, they were doing more patterning activities with their children.”

But whether it’s Legos, a card game or building blocks these all provide opportunities for parents to build up their child’s math skills.

Another thing the researchers found was that the parents’ beliefs in their own math skills were related to the type of support they provided for spatial math, like playing with blocks. That is, if the parent was confident in their spatial abilities, or the ability to imagine things in three dimensions, then they provided more support for spatial math.