Research / BFI Working PaperMar 30, 2023

Boosting Parent-Child Math Engagement and Preschool Children’s Math Skills: Evidence from an RCT with Low-Income Families

Susan Mayer, Ariel Kalil, William Delgado, Haoxuan Liu, Derek Rury, Rohen Shah

Math skill in early childhood is a key predictor of future academic achievement. Parental engagement in math learning contributes to the growth of children’s math skills during this period. To help boost parent-child engagement in math activities and children’s math skills, we conducted an RCT lasting 12 weeks with 758 low-income preschoolers and their primary caregivers. Parents were randomized into five groups: 1) a control group, and groups that received 2) a digital tablet with math apps for children; 3) analog math materials for parents to use with children, 4) analog math materials with weekly text messages to manage parents’ present bias; and 5) analog math materials with weekly text messages to increase parents’ growth mindset. Relative to the control group, neither the analog math materials alone nor the analog materials with growth mindset messages increased child math skills during the intervention period. However, the analog math materials combined with messaging to manage present bias and the digital tablet with math apps increased child math skills by about 0.20 standard deviations (p=.10) measured six months after the intervention. These two treatments also increased parents’ self-reported time engaged in math activities with their children.

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