Study: Learning math skills in first grade critical for future success

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A new study shows what we learn in the first grade lays the foundation for the rest of our lives.

And once kids fall behind, they’re usually not catching up.

We've all heard the importance of reading to your kids from birth.

Now, we’re hearing working on your kids’ math skills when they’re very young is just as important.

"Now, we can exchange for a nickel," says 7-year-old Tatum Kraetzer, from Cottonwood Creek Elementary in the Cherry Creek School District. "Twenty-five, 35, 45," she says as she counts change with fellow classmates.

In her first-grade class, students learn how numbers relate to everyday experiences. Because the district knows what they learn here is an equation for success for the rest of their lives—much like reading is to your children.

"I think parents understand math is super important. But I don't know if it's as automatic to do things that are as related to math at home," says first-grade teacher Rebecca Buell.

A University of Missouri study tested 180 seventh-graders.

Those students who tested behind their classmates in kindergarten are still lagging behind seven years later.

Some parents aren’t surprised it’s subtracting from their success.

"Any of us as adults need to use math skills every day. And it's important just like we use reading skills every day. Why not teaching math at a very early age consistently, like teach reading consistently," says mother Sharon Webb, who has a fifth-grader at Cottonwood Creek.

She says she introduced numbers to her two kids even before elementary school. "Things like counting pieces of cereal or looking at school buses driving by," she says.

The study calls it “number sense.” It’s a fundamental skill kids should be exposed to very early on, including numbers, magnitude, distance and shapes.

Children should learn numbers represent amounts of objects. For example, three objects equal the number three.

They should understand concepts of adding and take away using objects, such as taking away one red crayon.

They should count objects from one to 10, forward and backward.

"I think I'm good because all our homework is based on math. And we do lots of math every day," says Kraetzer.

The students count math as one of their favorite subjects.

"Because I practice it a lot. We have a lot of math in our homework," says first-grader Case Rubingh.

And teachers’ advice to parents: talk numbers wherever you are.

It'll add up to a smarter child who is more qualified for many of today’s jobs.

"Do what you can because so much of a kid's success is what happens between [ages] zero and six," says Buell.

Specialists are studying exactly what parents can do to help their kids build early math skills.

The National Institutes of Health will bring together experts this spring to figure it out.

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