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A matter of perspective: An exploratory study of the relationship between the early math skills and social competence of children from low-income families

The U.S. is calling for expansion of preschool to help close the well-documented income-based achievement gap. Children from low-income families often enter kindergarten academically behind their higher income peers and recent findings indicate gaps in social-emotional aspects of school readiness as well, illustrating how early these gaps emerge and raising questions about cross-domain relationships. Therefore, this two-study dissertation explores the relationship between children's social competence and their early math development. Study 1 uses longitudinal growth modeling to explore within and cross-domain relationships between children's a) interpersonal, social problem-solving skills and b) early math skills during a preschool year. Participants (N=76) were recruited from a MA preschool serving mostly children from low-income and minority families. Results show that children have positive, linear math learning trajectories that vary by age when not accounting for children's social competence. Children's development of flexibility in social problem-solving is associated with changes in the rates at which children learn math skills across a preschool year, controlling for baseline child demographics with no evidence of differential learning trajectories by age other than observed differences in math skills at preschool entry. Children's adaptive social problem-solving strategies show positive non-linear growth trajectories. Importantly, these adaptive problem-solving strategies from the previous time period have the potential (p =.12) to positively predict children's growth in early math skills during the preschool year. Study 2 draws a subsample (N=3485) from the Head Start Impact Study, (U.S. DHHS, 2010) a large, nationally representative study of Head Start, to investigate the potential mediating role of children's social competence on early math skills for children randomly assigned to Head Start. Results from a confirmatory factor analysis indicated good model fit for the latent construct with positive social skills and teacher-child relationships as indicators of social competence. Moreover, children's social competence was positively related to math achievement during the Head Start year. Taken together, results from these studies suggest that children's social competence may play an important role in promoting children's early math skills and may warrant more attention in preschool curricula especially as greater attention is paid to increasing implementation of challenging, developmentally-focused math curricula. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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