Examining the influence of the home learning environment, language and cognitive abilities on children's early number skills.
The Liverpool Early Number Skills Project (LENS) is a longitudinal project that tracks the development of pre-schoolers’ early skills into their primary school years. This project aims to contribute and extend our current understanding of the environmental and child factors that promote and constrain the development of early numeracy and literacy skills.
This project comprises two studies. The First Original Project (2016-2018): Examining the influence of the home learning environment, language and cognitive abilities on children's early number skills had a particular focus in understanding the influence of pre-schoolers’ home learning environment, language and cognitive abilities on later preschool and Reception Year number skills. This study followed a sample of children from preschool to the end of Reception. The Extension Project (2019-2020): Understanding the influence of the preschool home learning environment on early mathematics and literacy attainment aims to follow the same children as they progress through Key Stage 1. The extension study has a wider focus and examines the influence of the preschool home learning environment on later mathematics and literacy attainment.
First Original Project (2016-2018): Examining the influence of the home learning environment, language and cognitive abilities on children's early number skills
Our original project examined three key research questions:
- To what extent do preschool language and cognitive skills predict growth in early number skills?
- To what extent do aspects of the home learning environment predict growth in early number skills?
- To what extent are the relationships between the quality of the home learning environment and early number skills direct and to what extent are they indirect via the promotion of language skills?
This first project is now complete. We were able to demonstrate that children’s preschool language abilities and home experiences impacted on their number skills not only in preschool, but also at the end of their Reception year (see our project report for more details). We would like to thank parents, children and educational settings for their invaluable support in enabling us to complete this work.
First Original Project overview
The original project started in the academic year 2016/17. We recruited the children in their preschool year (i.e. the academic year in which they turn four). The children were assessed on three separate occasions. In the spring term of their preschool year (time 1) their counting, number transcoding and calculation skills were assessed. In the summer term of their preschool year (time 2) their language and cognitive skills were assessed. Finally, in the summer term of their Reception year (time 3) their counting, number transcoding and calculation skills were re-assessed. At this time point children also completed standardised measures of reading and mathematics. Alongside these child assessments, the children’s parents completed a questionnaire that gathered a range of background information and details about the children’s home learning environment. We also observed the preschool experiences within a subsample of the settings.
A total of 274 children from 40 preschool settings (including private and voluntary settings, maintained nurseries and nursery classes within primary schools) completed the number skills assessments at time 1. These children come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
Our results indicate that pre-schoolers’ language skills and their home learning experiences (in particular home learning experiences that focus on the sounds within words and the sounds that letters make) relate to their number and reading skills at the end of Reception. Attending a preschool setting that has higher in quality was associated with more advanced number transcoding and counting skills.
The findings underline the importance of children’s preschool language skills and specific preschool home learning experiences in supporting the development of both early number and early reading skills.
Extension Project (2019-2020): Understanding the influence of the preschool home learning environment on early mathematics and literacy attainment
Following the successful completion of the original project, we have recently received funding to extend the project for two more years. We will continue to follow the progress of the sample of children we recruited during their preschool year in the first original project. In the extension project we continue to examine the environmental factors (factors relating to the home learning environment) as well as language and cognitive abilities that influence the development of number skills. However, the extension project will widen its focus beyond number skills and it will also examine the influence of these factors on the development of early reading and writing.
This extension project will examine three key research questions:
- To what extent do preschool number, language and cognitive skills predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1?
- To what extent does the preschool home learning environment predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1?
- To what extent does the primary home learning environment predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1? Does the primary home learning environment modify any influence of the preschool home learning environment?
Our aim is to identify the factors that support the development of children’s early mathematics and literacy. The completion of the Liverpool Early Number Skills Project Extension will provide strong empirical evidence to inform policy and practice of the optimal ways in which home experiences can be structured to support early mathematics and literacy development.
Extension Project Overview
The original project made an important contribution to understanding the factors that influence maths and reading development in preschool and Reception. The extension project builds upon these findings and examines the influence of the preschool home learning environment on early mathematics and literacy attainment in Key Stage 1.
In this extension project parents will be asked to complete a short questionnaire on their children’s home learning environment now they are attending primary school. The children will complete standardised assessments of mathematics, reading and language skills in Year 1 and Year 2. In Year 2 children will also complete a writing measure. Children’s mathematics and reading Key Stage 1 SATs results will also be collated.
This new study aims to understand the longer-term impact of children’s preschool experiences and the different abilities these experiences support. This is only possible by following our sample of children across a longer time-period.
Findings of this new study aim to:
- Inform policymakers and parents about the factors that constitute supportive early learning environments, which promote the development of early number and literacy skills in very young children
- Identify the factors that constrain early number and literacy skills' development, paving the way for the development of early support strategies
The Liverpool Early Number Skills' Advisory Panel
The project has an advisory panel that is consulted when planning and implementing different aspects of the project. This includes Professor Gaia Scerif, who is leading a related project at the University of Oxford (see details of this project) and Professor Maria Chiara Passolunghi from University of Trieste (Italy) who has expertise in developmental mathematics and mathematics learning disabilities.
Dr Diahann Gallard who is based within the School of Education at LJMU is also part of the panel. Her background spans both psychology and early years education. She has insight into ways to disseminate to practitioners and can make suggestions for ways to reach stakeholders including children.
Jayne Challiner who is currently Service Manager for Early Years in Wigan. She is leading the Early Years Excellence Partnership and has successfully led the Early Implementation of 30 hours extended entitlement for working parents across Wigan. She has also successfully developed and implemented a number of key Early Years projects such as the ‘2 year old Integrated Review’, the DfE pilot for childminder agencies and the DfE funded ‘Ready Steady Play’ project. She enables the project team to engage in directly with Early Years practioners.
We have also sought additional input from Mr Jamie Roy (Director of New Brighton Day Nursery).
LENS has been funded by two Nuffield Foundation Research and Innovation grants ‘Understanding the influence of cognition and the home learning environment on early number skills’ and ‘Understanding the influence of the preschool home learning environment on early mathematics and literacy attainment’. The Nuffield Foundation is an endowed charitable trust that aims to improve social well-being in the widest sense. It funds research and innovation in education and social policy and also works to build capacity in education, science and social science research. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.
Project team and contact information
Get in touch with the project team:
Email: LENS@ljmu.ac.uk | Telephone: 0151 904 6338