Children

Liverpool Early Number Skills Project

Examining the influence of the home learning environment, language and cognitive abilities on children's early number skills.

LENS logo

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.

Projects

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:

  1. To what extent do preschool language and cognitive skills predict growth in early number skills?
  2. To what extent do aspects of the home learning environment predict growth in early number skills?
  3. 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 received funding to extend the project for two more years. We have continued to follow the progress of a sample of children we recruited during their preschool year in the first original project, examining the environmental factors (factors relating to the home learning environment) as well as language and cognitive abilities that influence the development of early mathematics and literacy attainment. Hence, the extension project has a wider focus beyond numeracy development and also focuses in literacy development, including children’s early reading and writing skills.

This extension project examines three key research questions:

  1. To what extent do preschool number, language and cognitive skills predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1?
  2. To what extent does the preschool home learning environment predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1?
  3. 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?

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, cognitive and language skills on early mathematics and literacy attainment in Key Stage 1.

The extension project started in the academic year 2017/18. The primary schools settings that the children who participated in the original project were attending or had moved to for Year 1 were invited to take part in a follow-up phase of the project. A total of 63 primary schools gave consent for the study to continue in their setting. Subsequently, parents of children who participated in the original study were invited to continue to take part in the extension study and to complete a Primary home learning environment questionnaire. This questionnaire gathered a range of background information and details about the children’s home learning environment while attending Primary school. We received a total of 120 completed questionnaires relating to children attending 50 Primary school settings. The children were then assessed on two separate occasions at their respective primary settings. In the summer term of Year 1, they had their language, mathematics and reading skills assessed and in the autumn term of Year 2 they completed spelling and writing assessments. A final data collection time-point was scheduled for the summer term of Year 2 to re-assess children’s language, mathematics, reading, spelling and writing skills. However, this data collection had to be cancelled due to unprecedented school closures amid the covid-19 pandemic.

A total of 119 children from 49 primary schools settings completed all the scheduled assessments. These children come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

Our results indicate that children’s cognitive skills, 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) at preschool age relate to their mathematical and reading attainment in primary school years.

The findings underline the importance of children’s preschool cognitive and language skills, and specific preschool home learning experiences, in supporting the development of their number and reading skills not just a year later once children have commence primary school, but also supporting their mathematics and reading attainment across a longer time-period that include their second and third year of primary school. These findings contribute to our understanding of the longer-term impact of children’s preschool experiences and the different abilities these experiences support.

We have actively engaged in dissemination activities with different stakeholders throughout the study. We have send out communications to our participating settings and parents. We have also presented the findings from both the original and the extension study in several occasions to policymakers to inform them about the factors that constitute supportive early learning environments that promote the development of early mathematics and literacy attainment. We will shortly be feeding back the extension project findings to our participating settings and parents and thanking them again for their cooperation and commitment to the LENS project.

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. Dr David Giofrè who is a Lecturer in Psychology based in the Department of Educational Sciences at the University of Genoa (Italy). He has extensive statistical modelling experience and has published numerous studies using modelling approaches.

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. 

Funding

Nuffield Foundation

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.

More information is available from the Nuffield Foundation website including project specific details.

Project team and contact information


Principal Investigator:

Dr Fiona Simmons

f.r.simmons@ljmu.ac.uk

Co-investigator:

Dr Anne-Marie Adams

a.adams@ljmu.ac.uk

Research associate:

Dr Elena Soto-Calvo

e.sotocalvo@ljmu.ac.uk


Get in touch with the project team:
Email: LENS@ljmu.ac.uk | Telephone: 0151 904 6338