TMW Center Newsletter February 2022

February 01, 2022

New TMW Center Research in Child & Youth Care Forum

A new TMW Center study assessing the ability to enhance parents’ use of math talk has been published in the latest volume of Child & Youth Care Forum.

It is well established that use of numerical and spatial language, aka ‘math talk’, is critical to the development of foundational math skills in early childhood. However, use of math talk varies from home to home. Our study tested the hypothesis that the quantity of math talk can be increased via an educational program aimed at increasing the relevant language that a caregiver shares with their child. We found that the intervention significantly increased caregivers’ amount of spatial talk and children’s amount of ‘number talk’ and ‘spatial talk’ for up to 4 months after the intervention. These results contribute to a growing body of evidence that suggests that caregiver-directed math talk interventions can positively influence caregivers’ and children’s use of math talk. These findings have practical significance, as math talk during the toddler and preschool years has been shown to predict the development of foundational math concepts and thinking.

What We’re Reading

The Brookings Institution’s Brown Center Chalkboard has a thoughtful, important analysis of the newly released study of the effects of Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K (TNVPK) program, which found that TNVPK, as it existed in 2009 and 2010, led to worse academic and behavioral outcomes than the available alternatives. While these results are leading some critics to ask whether large-scale investments in preschool are justifiable, the Chalkboard authors remind us:

Substantial investments in ECE are well supported by research, make good policy sense, and are urgently needed. This new study doesn’t change that. It does, however, drive home just how critical it is to hold the line on quality in any ECE expansion, and to continue to learn how to design programs so they best serve children, families, and society. … To be sure, the field needs to grapple with the TNVPK results given its rigorous study design. … But at a time when the vast majority of 3- to 5-year-olds are already in regular, out-of-home care—and the overall evidence on preschool clearly shows positive effects—the questions to prioritize no longer concern whether preschool works, but how can preschool work better. Indeed, we don’t ask whether we should invest in the elementary school years, we ask how well it is going and how could we do it better.

A recent study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics reveals yet another reason why a parent’s growth mindset is beneficial to developing babies and children. With this study, researchers sought to examine the extent to which a mother’s growth mindset may mitigate the (well-established) negative associations between maternal stress and her infant’s neurodevelopment. The results suggest that infants raised by mothers with growth mindsets (rather than fixed mindsets) may be protected against the neurodevelopmental consequences of higher maternal stress. The study’s authors suggest that these findings reveal the importance of interventions that support growth mindsets in parents (while acknowledging that there are huge systemic stressors and barriers placed on new parents which cannot be solved by growth mindsets).