LeFevre 2010 | Regression Analysis | Literacy

International Journal of Early Years Education Vol. 18, No.

1, March 2010, 55–70

Do home numeracy and literacy practices of Greek and Canadian parents predict the numeracy skills of kindergarten children?
Jo-Anne LeFevrea*, Eleoussa Polyzoib, Sheri-Lynn Skwarchukb, Lisa Fasta and Carla Sowinskia
CIEY_A_469914.sgm Taylor and Francis

of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada; bFaculty of Education, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Canada

(Received 2 December 2008; final version received 12 July 2009)
jo-anne_lefevre@carleton.ca Jo-AnneLeFevre 0 100000March 2010 18 Taylor 2010 & Francis Original Article 0966-9760 (print)/1469-8463 International Journal of Early Years Education 10.1080/09669761003693926(online)

Children’s experiences with early numeracy and literacy activities are a likely source of individual differences in their preparation for academic learning in school. What factors predict differences in children’s experiences? We hypothesised that relations between parents’ practices and children’s numeracy skills would mediate the relations between numeracy skills and parents’ education, attitudes and expectations. Parents of Greek (N = 100) and Canadian (N = 104) five-year-old children completed a survey about parents’ home practices, academic expectations and attitudes; their children were tested on two numeracy measures (i.e., KeyMath-Revised Numeration and next number generation). Greek parents reported numeracy and literacy activities less frequently than Canadian parents; however, the frequency of home numeracy activities that involved direct experiences with numbers or mathematical content (e.g., learning simple sums, mental math) was related to children’s numeracy skills in both countries. For Greek children, home literacy experiences (i.e., storybook exposure) also predicted numeracy outcomes. The mediation model was supported for Greek children, but for Canadian children, the parent factors had both direct and mediated relations with home practices. Keywords: early numeracy; parent involvement; home experiences

In countries as diverse as Finland, Italy, Germany and the USA, children’s numeracy performance in or before Kindergarten predicts their mathematics performance one to three years later (Aunola et al. 2004; Jordan et al. 2007; Krajewski and Schneider 2009; Passolunghi, Vercelloni, and Schadee 2007). Understanding the origins of variability in early numeracy skill appears to be critical in understanding children’s school achievement: Duncan et al. (2007), in a meta-analysis of six longitudinal data sets, found that children’s early numeracy performance was the best predictor of later school performance for both mathematics and reading. Although children may bring some innate skills to the task of learning about number and quantity (Butterworth 2005; Ginsberg et al. 2006), presumably these skills are developed through children’s interactions with their environments. Research on how children acquire literacy suggests that parents and other caregivers are influential in providing appropriate experiences to children to facilitate their acquisition of specific school-related skills (Evans and Shaw 2008; Phillips, Norris, and Anderson 2008; Sénéchal and LeFevre
*Corresponding author. Email: jo-anne_lefevre@carleton.ca
ISSN 0966-9760 print/ISSN 1469-8463 online © 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/09669761003693926 http://www.informaworld.com


J.-A. LeFevre et al.

2002). Accordingly, we hypothesised that home experiences involving number, quantity and related skills would be correlated with children’s developing numeracy. Cultural differences in parents’ academic expectations and practices In a meta-analysis of quantitative studies of urban children, Jeynes (2005) found that parents’ expectations for their children’s academic performance and the extent to which parents read to their children (currently or in the past) were both significantly related to academic outcomes (see also Georgiou 1999; Stevenson et al. 1990; Entwisle and Alexander 1990). Parent involvement and expectations can differ dramatically across cultures, however. For example, East Asian parents have higher academic expectations than North American parents (Stevenson et al. 1990; Zhou et al. 2006). Even among North American parents, those with East Asian backgrounds have different academic expectations for their children than those with European backgrounds (Huntsinger et al. 2000). Thus, parents’ expectations and involvement are likely to reflect specific attitudes and cultural norms (Phillipson and Phillipson 2007). There are few published studies comparing the academic expectations and practices of Greek parents with those of parents from other cultures (cf. Manolitsis et al. 2009). The present research, which involved Greek and Canadian parents, adds to this sparse literature and provides a novel cross-cultural comparison because the focus is on children’s early numeracy outcomes. Assessment of home practices Walkerdine (1988, cited in Aubrey, Bottle, and Godfrey 2003) proposed a distinction between types of numeracy activities that parents might provide, contrasting pedagogical activities (i.e., that are focused on teaching number skills) with instrumental activities (i.e., where numeracy content is incidental). LeFevre et al. (2009) proposed a similar distinction between direct and indirect numeracy activities, based on the view that parents might attempt to facilitate children’s numeracy skills both through direct teaching (e.g., practicing arithmetic facts) and/or provide numeracy experiences indirectly through time spent on related activities (e.g., games with numbers or counting, measurement within cooking or carpentry activities). Note that direct instruction could also occur in numeracy-related (or literacy-related) activities, but the goals of these activities are likely to be much broader than the acquisition of academic skills. LeFevre et al. (2009) found that direct and indirect activities could be distinguished in a factor analysis that explored the frequency with which parents reported various activities. Similarly, Sénéchal and LeFevre (2002) found that parents’ reports of direct and indirect literacy practices are independent, such that frequency of direct teaching about letters was unrelated to the frequency of shared storybook reading. Thus, some parents may engage in both direct and indirect activities, others may focus on one type of activity and exclude the other, and still other parents may feel that neither is necessary or appropriate. Researchers have reported that the frequency with which parents reported directly teaching their young children early literacy and numeracy skills (i.e., counting, simple addition, word reading) predicted counting and number naming for preschoolers (LeFevre, Clarke, and Stringer 2002) and Kindergarten children (Blevins-Knabe and Musun-Miller 1996; Pan et al. 2006; cf. Blevins-Knabe et al. 2000) or were correlated

International Journal of Early Years Education


with later math achievement (Huntsinger et al. 2000). LeFevre et al. (2009) found that, for Canadian children in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2, parents’ reports of how frequently their children engaged in direct practice of number skills were related to arithmetic fluency, as were indirect activities such as playing number-related games and frequency of activities such as measuring while cooking, handling money or using numeracy artefacts such as calendars or watches. Furthermore, children’s knowledge of numbers and the accuracy of their arithmetic performance were related to the frequency of playing number-related games. Thus, both direct and indirect numeracy activities may predict children’s numeracy skills. In the present research we assessed both types of numeracy activities. Present research In the present research we tested a model of the relations among parent factors and children’s numeracy outcomes. We hypothesised that three parent influences (education, parents’ academic expectations in regards to numeracy preparation and parental attitudes toward math) would be indirectly related to children’s numeracy performance through practices (e.g., shared reading and numeracy experiences provided at home). This hypothesis was based on the assumption that parents’ attitudes, knowledge and beliefs need to be operationalised as practices for them to influence children’s performance. In both Greece and Canada, Kindergarten is a reasonable place to expect a relation between home experiences and children’s numeracy performance, because children have received little formal instruction up until this point. Furthermore, Kindergarten curricula are relatively modest in terms of the expectations for children’s numeracy acquisition, and school occurs for only a few hours per day. Thus, home activities might have an important influence on children’s developing skills at this age. Finally, by comparing two distinct cultures that are very likely to be differentially influenced by factors such as government directives and societal pressures, we sought to establish the generality of any observed relations between parents’ reports of numeracy activities and children’s performance. Parents’ home literacy and numeracy practices across countries Children’s early literacy experiences are viewed as important by teachers and parents in North America and have been studied extensively over the last 20 years (Evans and Shaw 2008). These concerns about literacy acquisition in North America may occur, in part, because learning to read English is difficult. Seymour, Aro, and Erksine (2003) reported that, across a range of European countries, English-speaking children made the slowest progress in learning to read. By contrast, for languages such as Greek in which the mapping between sounds and symbols is regular and predictable, children were generally proficient at decoding single words correctly by the end of Grade 1 (Goswami, Porpodas, and Wheelwright 1997; Protopapas et al. 2007; Seymour, Aro, and Erksine 2003). Given this difference between learning to read in English and Greek, it may be that Greek parents are less concerned about their children’s early literacy activities than are English-speaking parents. Consistent with this view, Manolitsis et al. (2009) reported that the relation between parents’ reports of the frequency with which they taught their Kindergarten children about letters and children’s reading in Grade 1 was opposite for Greek and Canadian parents: teaching was associated with higher decoding scores for Canadian children, but lower scores for


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Greek children. The authors linked these findings to differences in orthographies across languages and suggested that Greek parents may only teach their children about letters if they are struggling with reading. Thus, we tentatively hypothesised that Canadian parents might be more concerned about early literacy than Greek parents. Further, artefacts that support or enhance the acquisition of literacy (e.g., children’s books, educational software directed at children) may also be less available in Greece than in Canada. More generally, anecdotal evidence (i.e., through the second author’s experiences in Greece with Greek family members) suggested that Greek parents might believe that academic learning is the responsibility of schools, rather than families, whereas Canadian parents may believe that academic learning is a shared responsibility. Hence, we hypothesised that Greek parents have lower expectations for their children’s academic performance before Grade 1 than Canadian parents. With respect to parents’ attitudes toward math, we hypothesised that these would be related to their practices for parents in both countries on the view that people are more likely to engage in activities that they enjoy (Cannon and Ginsberg 2008). Kindergarten mathematics curricula in Greece and Canada In general, there are few differences in curricular expectations with respect to early numeracy between Greece and Canada. In both countries, Kindergarten is a half-day programme (i.e., about 15 hours per week) for five-year-old children. In Greece, according to the Kindergarten teachers we consulted, Kindergarten children are expected to name and write the symbols for the numbers from 1 to 10, count orally to 20, and do very simple addition and subtraction. The Canadian children in the present study were from two provinces, Manitoba and Ontario. The Manitoba Curriculum Guidelines for Kindergarten (Manitoba Education, Citizenship, and Youth 2008) suggests that children should be able to recite the number sequence to 30, but does not specify whether they should learn to recognise the Arabic digits in Kindergarten. In Ontario (Ontario Ministry of Education 2006), the focus in Kindergarten appears to be on numbers to 10. Thus, the curriculum guidelines for all three sites are similar. Method Participants In total, 204 parents and Kindergarten children participated; 100 in Greece (48 boys) and 104 in Canada (53 boys). The mean age of both groups of children was five years and 10 months. The Greek parents were recruited from six different schools in Athens. Children were tested in April or May. The participation rate in Greece was 82% (100 of 122 parents who were approached agreed to participate). The Canadian parents participated in the first year of a longitudinal project. The Canadian children were recruited from seven different schools in three cities. Of the 148 parents who gave permission for their child to participate, 104 filled out the questionnaire for a completion rate of 70%. They were tested in May or June with 90% being tested within a six-week period. Parents were asked to indicate the highest level of education reached by both parents. In both countries, only a few parents had not completed high school and the education levels of the two parents were highly related. The most frequent level of

International Journal of Early Years Education


education completed by the responding parent in both countries was an undergraduate degree (35%); but more Canadian than Greek parents had completed a postgraduate degree (26% vs. 4%) and more Greek than Canadian parents had only a high school education (33% vs. 6%). Thus, the Canadian parents reported higher levels of education than the Greek parents. The majority of families were unilingual. In Greece, 99% of the parents indicated that Greek was the language most often spoken at home (one family indicated English). Twenty-nine children spoke another language; for 21 of these children the other language was English. In Canada, 90% of the parents indicated that English was the main language used at home. Twenty-eight of the Canadian children spoke another language; for 17 the language was French. Six of the children whose home language was not English also spoke English, and the remaining five children spoke another language. Materials and procedure Parent questionnaire Parents provided demographic information (e.g., languages spoken at home, parent education levels and occupations) and information on the frequency of various home practices (e.g., shared reading together, counting out money). To assess academic expectations, parents completed five-point scales assessing their views on the importance of their child reaching various academic benchmarks before starting Grade 1 (e.g., count to 10, read a few words). To assess attitudes, parents indicated their agreement with statements about math and reading (e.g., ‘When I was in school I was good at mathematics’; ‘I find reading enjoyable’) on five-point scales. The questionnaire and numeracy tests were translated from English to Greek by a professional Greek–English translator (who is also an educator in Athens) and verified by two other fluently bilingual speakers. Greek parents completed the questionnaire before their children were tested and immediately returned the questionnaire to the school principal or head teacher, who then forwarded it to the experimenter. Canadian parents were sent the questionnaire after the testing started in their child’s school (and after they had given permission for their child to participate). Parents returned the questionnaires directly to the researchers in postage-paid, self-addressed envelopes. The majority of questionnaires were returned within a month (i.e., before the end of the school year in June). In the Greek group, questionnaires were completed by mothers (89%), fathers (9%) or guardians (2%). The relationship between the respondent and the child was not collected for the Canadian children. Numeracy measures The Canadian children completed a large range of numeracy-related tasks as part of a longitudinal study, whereas the Greek children completed only two numeracy measures. In Greece, testing was carried out by a single experimenter (the second author). In Canada, testing was carried out by several experimenters (undergraduates or graduate students in education or psychology). Children were asked by the experimenters whether they would like to play some number games and only those children who agreed were subsequently tested. Because the Canadian children were in the first year of a longitudinal project and were tested on a large set of measures (a total of


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40–50 minutes of testing), we were very careful to ensure that the tasks were appropriate and enjoyable for the children. Next number task. Children were shown Arabic numbers and asked to say the number that came next. The complete set of numbers was 2, 4, 9, 13, 17, 19, 23, 49, 81, 99, 222, 354, 765, 999, 6666, 8331, 99,999, 407,276. In Greece the numbers were shown printed on cards. The children were asked to first name the number shown, then to state the next number. No specific time limit was applied. We used performance on the next number component (i.e., not number naming) as the measure of number system knowledge because it is equivalent to the task performed by the Canadian children. Notably, children’s ability to name the number shown and to generate the next number was closely related. Children’s performance on naming and generating the next number was consistent on 96% of 1046 trials; on 618 trials children both named the number shown and correctly generated the next number, and on 392 trials they were incorrect on both naming and generating. Thus, there was a discrepancy on only 36 trials; on 32 they named the number correctly but could not generate the next number, on four trials they named the number incorrectly but generated the next number correctly. Thus, this task captures both number recognition and applying the rules of generating numbers. In Canada, the numbers were displayed on a laptop computer. Children stated the next number; they were not required to name the number shown. Both accuracy and latency of responses were recorded. If the child had not responded within 25 seconds, a time-out signal appeared and the trial was counted as an error. In both countries, the task was stopped for an individual child after three consecutive errors. Numeration. Children in both countries completed the numeration subtest of the KeyMath-Revised (Connolly 2000). Because no norms were available for the Greek children, raw scores were used in the analyses. All children started on the first test item, so raw scores represent total correct. As per test instructions, the test was ended after three consecutive errors. Results Numeracy measures Each numeracy measure (number correct) was analyzed in a 2 (country: Greece, Canada) × 2 (gender: girls, boys) analysis of variance (ANOVA). For Numeration, there was no difference in performance across country, but boys scored higher than girls: (7.3 vs. 6.4), F(1, 199) = 5.35, MSE = 7.87, partial η2 = .026, p < .05. On the next number task, the Canadian children scored higher than Greek children (7.4 vs. 6.2), F(1, 199) = 4.28, MSE = 13.40, partial η2 = .022, and boys scored higher than girls (7.4 vs. 6.2), F(1, 199) = 4.68, partial η2 = .023, ps < .05. There were no interactions between gender and country, Fs < 1. Although Canadian children could name more next numbers than Greek children, in both countries, children recognised numbers to 20 very accurately and thus performance was consistent with curricular demands. Children’s performance on the numeracy measures was highly inter-related for both the Greek and Canadian children, all rs > .64, ps < .001. Thus, a composite numeracy score was created within each country by averaging z-scores for the numeration and next number tasks.

International Journal of Early Years Education


Parent responses Frequencies of activities across countries Parents in both countries were asked to indicate how frequently they and their child participated in a range of home activities. As shown in Table 1, the 20 activities varied widely in terms of both mean reported frequencies (t-tests) and the distributions of frequencies (χ2 tests). Literacy. Canadian parents reported reading more frequently than Greek parents. Although most parents reported reading two to four times per week, or more, over 60% of the Canadian parents reported reading daily compared with ∼ 25% of the Greek parents (Figure 1). Canadian parents also reported that they had more children’s books at home than Greek parents. Furthermore, parents who reported having more books also reported that they read to their children more frequently, both for Greek, r(95) = .31, and Canadian parents, r(102) = .31, ps < .05. Principle components analysis (by country) was used to create factor scores to capture the related variance between frequency of reading and number of children’s books. Factor loadings for the two variables were .81 for the Canadian children and .87 for the Greek children. The resulting factor scores were labelled children’s book exposure.
Figure 1. Distributions of parents’ reports of the frequency of selected home practices. In all cases, these distributions differed across countries. Frequency categories were: never, one to three times per month (1–3 mo), once per week (1 wk), two to four times per week (2–4 wk), almost daily (AD) and daily (D).

Table 1.

Mean reported frequencies of parent-child activities by country. Mean SD Canada 1.8 4.4 5.3 1.3 1.0 2.0 2.6 0.5 0.8 1.7 1.5 2.3 2.1 1.8 1.4 Greece 1.6 1.3 1.8 1.4 1.6 1.7 1.6 0.9 1.0 1.5 1.6 1.8 1.3 1.9 1.5 Canada 1.6 0.9 2.7 1.0 1.3 1.5 1.2 0.9 0.8 1.3 1.1 1.2 1.2 1.9 1.5

Activities Literacy Writing letters or storiesa Reading togethera,b Total children’s books a,b Numeracy – direct Counting out moneya Memorising math facts Doing math in your head Learning simple sumsa Numeracy – Indirect Using a calculator Measuring lengths/widthsa Making/sorting collectionsa,b Measuring while cookinga Using computer softwarea,b Playing board/card gamesa,b Speeded responses Expecting quick responses Timing of activities

Greece 1.8 3.4 3.0 1.2 1.4 2.2 2.4 0.4 0.6 1.0 1.6 1.6 2.8 2.3 1.1

Notes: The scale for the number of children’s books is: 0 = none; 1 = 1–20; 2 = 21–40; 3 = 41–60; 4 = 61– 80; 5 = 81–100; 6 = 101–120; 7 = 121–140; 8 = 141–160; 9 = 161–200; 10 = 201–250; 11 = > 250. All of the other variables used the following scale: 0 = never; 1 = 1–3 times per month; 2 = once per week; 3 = 2–4 times per week; 4 = almost daily; 5 = daily. a Frequency distributions are significantly different by country (p < .05). b Mean differences across countries are significant (p < .05).


J.-A. LeFevre et al.

Figure 1. Distributions of parents’ reports of the frequency of selected home practices. In all cases, these distributions differed across countries. Frequency categories were: never, one to three times per month (1–3 mo), once per week (1 wk), two to four times per week (2–4 wk), almost daily (AD) and daily (D). Note: y-axis on each graph represents the proportion of parents choosing each frequency category.

Numeracy. Canadian parents reported a greater frequency of making/sorting collections and of using computer software. Greek parents reported a greater frequency of playing board or card games with their children. Furthermore, the frequency distributions across country varied for counting money, learning simple sums, measuring lengths/widths and measuring ingredients while cooking. As shown in Figure 1, Greek parents were more likely than Canadian parents to report that their children never learned simple sums or measured while cooking. Canadian parents also tended to be more homogenous in their responses (i.e., they were more likely to cluster at a few levels of frequency), whereas Greek parents were more heterogeneous (e.g., fewer parents selected any one frequency category). In general, where the distributions

International Journal of Early Years Education


across countries were different (and the means were the same), these observations held; a higher frequency of ‘never’ participating in that activity and greater heterogeneity among the Greek compared with the Canadian parents. Finally, almost half of the Greek children never used computer software, whereas about a third of the Canadian children used software two to four times per week. This may reflect the socio-economic conditions of the families, or the availability of computers or computer software in Greece versus Canada. Correlations between numeracy and parent practices For the Greek children, numeracy performance was correlated with the frequency with which parents reported reading, r(98) = .33. For the Canadian children, numeracy was not correlated with reading. In both countries (Canada vs. Greece), numeracy performance was correlated with the frequencies of: counting money (.21 vs. .20), learning simple sums (.35 vs. .38), doing math in your head (.40 vs. .36) and memorising math facts (.20 vs. 24), ps < .05. Thus, children whose parents reported direct numeracy instruction had higher numeracy scores. For the Canadian parents, the frequency of using a calculator (.33) and computer software (.21) were also significantly correlated with numeracy. Thus, simple correlations support the view that various home numeracy practices are related to children’s numeracy performance. The 12 numeracy practices were included in factor analyses (i.e., principal components with varimax rotation), one for each country. For parents in both countries, three factors emerged. Direct math activities included those in which numerical processing was the goal of the activity: hence, doing math in your head, memorising math facts, learning simple sums and counting money. All these activities have numerical processing as their central focus. The direct math activities formed a first factor that accounted for 44% and 34% of the variance among items, respectively, for Greek and Canadian parents. Indirect activities were those in which numeracy-related processing might have occurred, but was not the focus of the activity, such as games, measuring while cooking, making and sorting collections. These formed a second factor that accounted for 12 and 15% of the variance. The third factor included the two ‘speeded’ activities (i.e., expecting quick responses and timing activities), accounting for 11% and 12% of the variance. Thus, analysis of the math-related factors showed identical structure across the two countries and supported the hypothesis that direct and indirect activities are differentiable. The patterns of correlations between the numeracy outcome measure and the three numeracy factors were identical across countries: the frequency of direct numeracy activities was correlated with numeracy scores, r(98) = .38 (Greek) and r(102) = .37 (Canadian), ps < .05, whereas the frequency of indirect activities and speeded activities were not significantly correlated with numeracy in either country, all rs < .07, ps > .50. In subsequent analyses, therefore, only direct activities were included as indices of home numeracy practices. Parents’ attitudes about mathematics and general academic expectations Parents were asked the extent to which they agreed with the statements ‘I enjoy mathematics’ and ‘When I was in school I was good at mathematics’ (i.e., 1, strongly disagree; 2, disagree; 3, agree; 4, strongly agree; parents who indicated unsure on this item were not included in the analysis). The distribution of responses to this item was


J.-A. LeFevre et al.

similar across countries, with relatively few parents strongly disagreeing (Greek 10%; Canadian 3%) and about a third from each country strongly agreeing (Greek 35%; Canadian 37%). Ratings on the two questions were correlated, r(81) =.68 (Greek), and r(96) = .81 (Canadian). Thus, ratings on these two questions were averaged to create the math attitude measure. Cronbach’s alpha for the summed scores was .81 and .89 for Greek and Canadian parents. Because the extent to which parents agreed with the statements ‘I enjoy reading’ and ‘When I was in school, I was good at language arts’ were not significantly correlated with the frequency of math activities, with the frequency of reading together or with the number of children’s books at home, they were not considered further. As a measure of their academic expectations, parents were asked to indicate how important it was for their children to attain certain academic skills before Grade 1. Consistent with Kindergarten curricula in both countries, basic skills (print name, know some letters, count to 10) were rated as very important by 80% or more of the parents. Moreover, over half of parents in both countries rated all of the indicated skills as either important or very important. Despite the overall similarities between countries, comparisons indicated that Canadian parents had higher expectations than Greek parents (as was hypothesised) in that Canadian parents rated: counting to 10, counting to 100, knowing some alphabet letters, knowing all 26 alphabet letters, printing all 26 alphabet letters and reading a few words as significantly more important than did Greek parents. To create a composite measure of parents’ academic expectations, we conducted a principal components analysis of the five importance items that showed some variability and were correlated with numeracy outcomes in at least one of the two countries (i.e., count to 100, know simple sums, print all letters, know all letters and read a few words). For both countries, a single factor was identified, accounting for 60 and 67% of the variance among the items for Greek and Canadian parents, respectively. These factor scores were used in the multiple regression analyses described below to represent the parents’ expectations about academic achievement. Home numeracy experiences and numeracy performance We hypothesised that relations between children’s numeracy performance and parents’ academic expectations, math attitudes and education would be mediated by parents’ home practices. As shown in Table 2, the parents of children with high numeracy scores also had higher academic expectations, more positive views of their own math skills and reported more numeracy practices. There were two differences between cultures: numeracy scores only correlated with parent education and book exposure for Greek, not Canadian, children. Correlations among the predictors were broadly similar across cultures but not identical. For Canadian children, parent education was only correlated significantly with parents’ attitudes toward math, whereas for Greek parents, education was also correlated with children’s book exposure and numeracy. Because there were some differences in patterns of relations, we tested separate path models for the Greek and Canadian groups. First, we hypothesised that home environment factors would be related to numeracy outcomes, and second, we hypothesised that these variables would mediate the relations between the parent factors and children’s numeracy performance. We also assumed that parent education would predict expectations and attitudes, rather than the reverse. To test the predictions, for each culture we

International Journal of Early Years Education


Table 2. Correlations among the variables in the model. Those shown below the diagonal are for Greek children (N = 100) and those shown above the diagonal are for Canadian children (N = 104). Parent factors Home environment

Education Expectations Attitude Book exposure Math practices Numeracy Education Expectations Attitude Book exposure Math practices Numeracy −.06 .03 .26** .32** .01 .20* .05 .20* .19 .26** .42** .04 .25* .41** .33** .05 .26* .18 .20* .51** −.11 .30** .28** .19 .38** .16 .31** .33** .09 .37**

Notes: *p < .05; **p < .01.

performed a series of regressions (see Table 3). In the first regression, numeracy was the dependent variable and all of the other variables were entered as predictors. In this regression, any variables that accounted for significant variance are assumed to have a direct relation with numeracy performance. The values in Table 3 are the standardised coefficients. The total variability accounted for by the model is shown in the final row of each analysis. Statistically significant coefficients indicate that a predictor accounts for unique variance in the dependent variable.
Table 3. Standardised regression coefficients and model R2 values for each regression analysis. Dependent variables are shown in the column headers; predictors are shown in the column on the far left. Home environment Predictors Greek Book exposure Direct practices Expectations Math attitude Parent education Child gender Model R2 (total) Canadian Book exposure Direct practices Expectations Math attitudes Parent education Child gender Model R2 (total) Parent factors

Numeracy Book exposure Direct practices Expectations Attitudes .40** .20* .12 .16 .02 .11 .38** −.07 .24* .25* .22* .10 .09 .26** – .12 .16 .12 .28** .00 .18** – .07 .23* .14 .01 .03 .10 .11 – .14 .41** −.14 .19* .25** .06 – .24** .38** −.27** .25** .27** – – – .04 .02 .04 .01 – – – .09 −.11 .07 .02 – – .05 – .26* −.02 .07 – – .08 – .43** −.09 .19**

Notes: *p < .05; **p < .01.


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Figure 2. For Greek parents, the patterns of relations among parent attitudes, academic expectations, education, practices and numeracy performance of their children.

For Greek children, both book exposure and math practices predicted numeracy outcomes, as hypothesised. Furthermore, none of the other predictors accounted for unique variance in numeracy, supporting the second hypothesis that the relations between parent factors and numeracy are mediated by reported practices. These patterns are summarised in Figure 2. For Canadian children, the picture was more complicated. Although math practices predicted numeracy outcomes, exposure to children’s books did not. Furthermore, parent expectations and math attitudes were significant direct predictors of numeracy outcomes. Thus, home experiences only partially mediated the relations between parent factors and numeracy performance. These patterns are summarised in Figure 3.
Figure 2. For Greek parents, the patterns of relations among parent attitudes, academic expectations, education, practices and numeracy performance of their children. Figure 3. For Canadian parents, the patterns of relations among parent attitudes, academic expectations, education, practices and numeracy performance of their children.

Figure 3. For Canadian parents, the patterns of relations among parent attitudes, academic expectations, education, practices and numeracy performance of their children. Note: The dotted line indicates a negative relation between the variables (see Table 3).

International Journal of Early Years Education


In summary, the proposed model of home practices as a mediator of the relation between children’s numeracy and parents’ attitudes, education and expectations was supported for the Greek families and partially supported for the Canadian families. Children’s book exposure was related to numeracy outcomes for the Greek, but not Canadian children. Parents’ personal attitudes toward mathematics were correlated with numeracy practices in both cultures. However, parents’ academic expectations were not related to practices for the Greek families. Discussion Longitudinal studies show that children’s early numeracy skills predict their acquisition of mathematics in the early years of school (Aunola et al. 2004; Jordan et al. 2007; Passolunghi, Vercelloni, and Schadee 2007). Because parents have the most influence on children’s early experiences, we hypothesised that parents’ home practices, that is, the extent to which they report home numeracy experiences, would predict children’s numeracy performance. We tested this hypothesis with parents and children in Canada and Greece, countries that share similar educational goals for five-year-olds, but vary in language, culture and possibly, societal norms about the importance of academically related home activities. We found core similarities between children’s experiences and their early numeracy skills across countries. Parents who reported a higher frequency of direct numeracy practice had children with higher numeracy skills, and these parents were more likely to report that they were good at mathematics and enjoyed mathematics themselves. There were also differences across countries, as discussed below. The most striking difference across countries was that there was a relation between book exposure and numeracy for Greek, but not Canadian, parents. One possibility is that our index of book exposure was simply not a sensitive measure for the Canadian parents (but see Sénéchal et al. 1996). Greek parents might be less affected by a socialdesirability bias and therefore report reading less to their children than Canadian parents because home literacy activities are actually less important for learning to read in Greek compared with English. Greek is a more regular language, with consistent mappings between the symbols and the sounds. Accordingly, learning to read in Greek may be easier for children and thus Greek parents may be less concerned about preparing children for learning to read (Manolitsis et al. 2009; Seymour, Aro, and Erksine 2003; see LeFevre, Clarke, and Stringer 2002 and Sénéchal 2006 for similar results for parents of French-speaking children). However, although potential differences in parents’ reports of shared reading might explain the low correlations for Canadian parents, they do not fully explain why the correlation between book exposure and numeracy is so large for Greek parents. Further research is necessary to better understand what is captured by the book exposure variable among Greek families. The other major difference across cultures was an overall lower level of concern about children’s preparation for school among Greek parents. This finding is also consistent with the hypothesis that they see home experiences as less critical to children’s school success than do Canadian parents. For Canadian parents, expectations predicted unique variance in numeracy outcomes, suggesting that these expectations are related to some other factors in children’s lives that are important for their numeracy acquisition (beyond parent education, parent attitudes and home numeracy practices). Our central hypothesis was that parents’ direct numeracy practices would mediate relations between children’s numeracy outcomes and parents’ education, attitudes and


J.-A. LeFevre et al.

expectations. This hypothesis was supported for the Greek parents, but only partially supported for the Canadian parents. Direct relations persisted between parents’ expectations and attitudes toward math and their children’s numeracy performance. Thus, the model is incomplete for Canadian families. We suspect that languagerelated variables such as vocabulary knowledge, captured here by book exposure for Greek families, may also be important for Canadian children’s numeracy. In future research, more sensitive measures of such experiences should be included. In future work it will also be important to assess a wider range of home practices and more numeracy-related outcomes. LeFevre et al. (2009) also found that parents’ reports of numeracy activities correlated with children’s numeracy performance, but indirect numeracy activities (i.e., games and speeded activities) were related to measures of numeracy knowledge similar to those used in the present study whereas direct practices were not. One possible explanation for differences across studies is that the direct numeracy practices that were queried by LeFevre et al. involved more basic skills (e.g., printing numbers, writing numbers) than the direct practices assessed in the current study (e.g., learning simple sums, memorizing math facts). Those basic skills were probably already mastered by many of the children in LeFevre et al. (who were in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2) and thus were no longer relevant to predicting their more advanced numeracy skills. A second difference across studies is that, in LeFevre et al. both the direct and indirect numeracy factors were related to an aspect of children’s numeracy performance that we did not assess in the current study (i.e., solution latencies to simple addition problems). Accordingly, it seems likely that, in future research, assessing both a range of home practices and a range of numeracy outcomes will clarify the relations among these measures. Although direct practices seemed more important in the present work (cf. LeFevre et al. 2009), intervention research by Siegler and his colleagues (Ramani and Siegler 2008; Siegler and Ramani 2008, 2009) suggests that number games (e.g. Snakes and Ladders) are a potent source of learning about some important aspects of the number system, especially for disadvantaged children (see also Whyte and Bull 2008). Thus, the present research contributes to an emerging consensus that number-related activities, often in gamelike contexts, are likely to be an important source of early numeracy experiences for young children. The methodology used in this article has limitations; in particular, parents’ selfreports may not accurately capture their actual behaviour. However, the range of responses obtained in the data suggest that parents’ reports about their home numeracy activities appear to be less biased than reports about literacy. Moreover, the social-desirability bias that has been noted for self-reports of shared reading in North American samples (Sénéchal et al. 1996) seemed less for the Greek parents: for many activities Greek parents were more likely to report ‘never’ participating than were Canadian parents. Despite these differences across cultures in absolute frequencies of reported practices, the relations within each culture among the parent beliefs, reported activities and children’s performance were quite similar. Overall, these data support a view of children’s home experiences that crosses cultural boundaries. Children who experienced more direct exposure to mathematical content at home had better early numeracy skills. Parents who had positive attitudes toward mathematics were more likely to report engaging their children in home numeracy experiences. Thus, variations in home experiences may be part of the reason for the large differences in early numeracy skill shown by children before the onset of formal instruction.

International Journal of Early Years Education


The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided support for this research through a Standard Operating Grant to J. LeFevre, J. Bisanz, D. Kamawar, B.L. Smith-Chant and S.L. Skwarchuk. The data reported for the Canadian children are part of a longitudinal project. More information about the project is available at www.carleton.ca/cmi or from the first author. We greatly appreciate the cooperation and enthusiasm of the children, parents, teachers, principals, and schools who participated in this research.

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