Eastern Connecticut State University
Center for
Early Childhood Education
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The Relationship of Teacher-Child Interactions in Preschool Play to

Young Children's Mathematical Ability

A study by Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Dr. Sudha Swaminathan, and Dr. Xing Liu

Fall 2010 - Summer 2011

Funded by the Spencer Foundation

The purpose of this study was to identify classroom interventions in play that are associated with math achievement in three- and four-year-olds. While researchers have long found strong relationships between young children’s play and literacy, studies of teacher interactions in play and mathematics learning have not been conducted—despite the fact that math ability in preschool has been found to be one of the best predictors of later school success. For this study, 47 preschool children were video recorded during free play periods in their classrooms. All interactions with teachers during play time were coded. Informal teacher interactions related to number sense and to communication about mathematics were found to be associated with gains on a measure of mathematical thinking. “Good-fit” interactions in play—those in which a teacher’s guidance matched the kind of support children needed in their play—were also related to math scores. Authors conclude that teachers can promote mathematical thinking through informal play interactions, but these must support, not interrupt, children’s own, on-going play activities.

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