Early language learning linked to school maths performance - report

Preschoolers who spend more time discussing letters and sounds with their parents are better at reading and mathematics when they start school, according to a new report. 

They also perform better at spelling in Year 2, giving them a sound foundation to their future schooling. 

These are just two findings from the Nuffield Foundation-funded Liverpool Early Number Skills Project (LENS) at Liverpool John Moores University. 

LENS – led by Drs Fiona Simmons, Anne-Marie Adams and Elena Soto Calvo - examined the impact of the home learning environment, following children from preschool to Year 2.

Letter-sound interactions

In its report published today, it concludes that evidence that parent-child interactions that focus on the links between letters and sounds are likely to support children’s learning once they commence primary school.  At preschool age, interactions focusing on letters and sounds can be initiated when engaging with books, toys and environmental print such as signs and packaging.

Principal investigator Dr Fiona Simmons, in the School of Psychology, said that children who discussed letters and the sounds more frequently during the preschool period obtained higher scores on reading, spelling and mathematics assessments in Key Stage 1. 

She explained: “These early interactions can give children the tools to understand abstract symbolic systems - the idea that a printed symbol on a page can stand for something else.”

“If children can understand this concept as it relates to language, it might be easier for them to apply it to numbers and maths.”

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The findings add more weight to research that suggests there are benefits to talking with young children about the sounds within words and the letters that represent them.

The LJMU team asked the parents of 274 preschoolers — children who were on average about 4 years old—about the frequency of different home learning experiences and continued to monitor the progress of 120 of them to Year 2 in primary school.

The project found that:

  • Preschool early number skills predicted children’s mathematics attainment in Year 1.
  • Preschool language skills predicted children’s mathematics and reading attainment in Year 1 and their word spelling skills in Year 2.
  • The frequency of parent-child, letter-sound interactions at preschool age predicted children’s mathematics and reading attainment in Year 1 and spelling attainment and letter writing skills in Year 2.  The relationships with spelling and letter writing were independent of the children’s preschool language skills.

The report concludes: “The parent-child interactions that appear most influential are those that highlight the links between letters and sounds. Parents and early years educators need support in understanding the nature of age-appropriate letter-sound interactions that are likely to be beneficial in laying the foundations for pre-schoolers’ later academic development.”

The full report can be seen on our website at https://www.ljmu.ac.uk/microsites/liverpool-early-number-skills-project/communications-and-publications


The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org



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