Girl With Abacus

Math and science learning isn’t just something that happens in the classroom. Several new studies have confirmed that children’s parents and home environment play an important role in shaping math and science skills.

In fact, home and school learning seem to reinforce each other so that kids who learn about math and science outside of school end up getting more from their classes.

According to one study published this month, having a simple “What did you learn in school today?” conversation can make children more likely to retain information from science class.

In the study, children participated in a science lesson, then talked about what they’d learned with their parents after getting home. When parents drew more information out of their children (for example, by asking open-ended questions), the children remembered content from the lesson better six days later. This finding suggests that even without knowing what their children are learning in school, parents can help their children learn new material by asking questions.

Beyond asking questions about school content, parents can also supplement learning with home activities. Another recent study showed that parents who report having children with more advanced math skills also report doing more math activities at home with their children. This result indicates the possibility that home math activities may be an effective way of helping children hone their math skills.

Of course, parents don’t all place equal value on developing their children’s math skills. Some research suggests that part of what determines children’s math development is just how much parents care about their children’s math skills specifically.

So, as you might expect, when parents are more invested in their children’s math development, children do tend to end up doing better in math classes. Importantly, though, there’s a limit to what’s helpful: when parents are overinvested in their children’s math skills and burden their children with unrealistic expectations, children end up performing worse in math classes on average!

The takeaway, then, is that talking to children about what they’ve learned in school and even supplementing classroom work with some home activities seems to be helpful, but that going overboard can have opposite the intended effect.

Image: Flickr/Skip under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0