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Child's play: math program has dramatic results among preschoolers

MIAMI, April 24, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- FIU College of Education Professor Charles Bleiker has developed a program based on 15 simple activities—or games—that appears to boost preschoolers' math ability with eye-popping success.

Bleiker introduced the program at Calvary Baptist Church School in Little Havana during the 2012-2013 school year. The students, all participants in Florida's free Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK) and from homes in which Spanish is the dominant language, were divided into an intervention group and a control group. Those in the intervention group received 15 minutes per week, for several months, of one-on-one time with a facilitator, in this case, one of Bleiker's graduate students.

The sessions revolve around a single game, each of which targets basic competencies, such as identifying and naming numbers, comparing and ordering numbers, and understanding that a larger number can be broken into two or more smaller ones.

After the first year, Bleiker saw the youngsters in the intervention group outperform those in the control group by an average of more than 30 percent on a standardized end-of-year assessment.

"This is a big effect," says Bleiker, who is continuing the study during the current school year with a new set of four-year-olds and will publish his findings in 2015.  "At a time when we are all concerned with standardized test scores and our children's ability to excel in science, technology, engineering and math, these results hold great promise."

The U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics reported in 2012 that incoming kindergarteners who were poor scored an average of 23 percent lower on start-of-the-year standardized math assessments than their middle-class peers.

"Developing early math skills is very important," says Yukari Okamoto, a professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an expert in early-childhood math education. "We know that it is children's early math performance—not reading—that can more accurately predict their later academic performance. So programs like this one can help children build foundational skills during preschool years, which would positively influence their later academic success."

Bleiker says his program produces as much as a six-month boost in academic knowledge. Participating preschoolers start kindergarten with math ability equivalent to that of an average kindergartener more than midway through the school year. He believes that early intervention has the potential to even the playing field for the economically disadvantaged.

Bleiker anecdotally has noted positive unintended consequences of the program, among them a growing English vocabulary—children learn words and phrases not typically introduced in preschool, such as greater than and less than—and growing self-esteem as the children make gains.

For a video of Bleiker with the preschool children, click here.

Media Contact:  Marlen Mursuli 

SOURCE Florida International University

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