Active Early Numeracy

The Active Early Numeracy project explores the relationships between physical activity and mathematical and motor skills in preschool-aged children. Earlier research has shown that basic mathematical skills indicate child’s overall academic performance and predict the future educational path. In particular, mathematical learning difficulties cause difficulties in later studies and vocational training. These days, children and young adults are significantly less physically active and have poorer motos skills than those of previous generations. Furthermore, the research has shown that a passive lifestyle is related to a child’s lower academic performance in school.

During the longitudinal study, we examine how the development of children's motor skills and executive functions is linked to early numeracy skills. In addition, we investigate how a child's physical activity is related to this mathematical-motor-cognitive development.

During the intervention research, we examine the effectiveness of a practice session, that combines motor and math skills, to enhance learning of early numeracy skills. The intervention study uses the same assessment methods as the longitudinal study, in addition to collecting information on the effects of learning on children's neurocognitive activity.

The study consists of two parts: a longitudinal and an intervention study. The longitudinal study examines the changes that occur in a period of three years as a result of a child’s development. The study includes a total of three measurement points, which are carried out each autumn in 2019–2021. After the second measurement point, some children will be drawn to participate in practice groups, where children will perform various activities related to early numeracy and/or physical activity. The intervention research examines the practice period’s effect on early numeracy skills.

The chronological order of the study process is described below:

Measurement point 1

The first measurement will be conducted for all children participating in the study at the turn of 2019-2020. The children's motor, linguistic, mathematical, and executive function skills will be assessed. The amount of physical activity is also measured for some children. In addition, parents will receive surveys to collect information on their level of income, the number of children in the family, their birth order, and the children’s exercise habits and screen time.

Pilot intervention

A pilot study will be organized in early 2020 to prepare for the intervention study. For this study section, a total of 48 children will be randomly selected, out of which 24 will take part in a practice group and 24 will be assigned to a control group that does not take part in practice sessions. The assessments conducted in the autumn will be repeated for all children participating in the pilot intervention immediately after the practice period has ended (immediate post measurements) and eight weeks later (delayed post measurement).

Measurement point 2

In the autumn of 2020, second measurements will be conducted for all children participating in the study. Children who take part in the intervention study can also participate in the measurement of brain electrical activity (EEG) during a regular day at the preschool.

In­ter­ven­tion­

Starting from spring 2021, the practice groups get together two times per week for a period of eight weeks, alongside regular daily activities at the preschool. The duration of a practice session is approximately 45 minutes. The groups engage in motor and early numeracy skill assignments, which are intended to support the children’s learning of early numeracy skills. Immediately after the practice period, the children participating in the practice groups as well as the children in the control group will be assessed. The measurement of brain electrical activity (EEG) is performed to those who volunteer for that part of the study. The same assessments and measurements will be repeated eight weeks later after the practice period has ended (delayed post measurement).

Measurement point 3

In the autumn of 2021, a third assessment point will be conducted for all children participating in the current study. As in the first and the second assessment point, the children's physical activity, motor, linguistic, early numeracy, and executive function skills will be assessed.

Timeline

The longitudinal study follows a total of 500 children in two age groups (children born in 2015 and 2016) for a period of three years. The study consists of a total of three measurement points, which are carried out each autumn in 2019–2021. The children's physical activity, motor, linguistic, mathematical, and executive function skills will be measured during each measurement point. All measurements are conducted during the children’s regular day at the preschool.

Physical activity of the children taking part in the study is measured with light-weight motion sensors placed on the hip and thigh. Movement is monitored with a hip sensor for one week and with a thigh sensor for three days. The sensors will not interfere with the child’s movement or other activities. During the measurement, the parents are asked to keep a daily record of when the sensors are put on and taken off. During the measurement, the children will hear a story of a superhero who uses a magical belt. The children are then given the chance to experience what it would be like to be a superhero for a week.

Motor skills will be assessed using various brief tasks that include running, jumping, throwing, and balancing. Manual skills will additionally be assessed through tasks that require dexterity. The motor skill tasks will be performed in small groups under the instruction of an adult, and the children get to challenge themselves with various new tools and tasks.

Mathematical, linguistic, and executive function skills are measured using age-appropriate tasks, which are performed on a computer or with pen and paper. These tasks are completed together with an adult. Early childhood education teachers will also be asked to assess the children’s mathematical and linguistic skills.

Parents will be asked to fill out a survey to collect information on the number and the birth order of children in their family, their level of income, and the children’s exercise habits and screen time.

Out of all the children participating in the study, some (a total of 180 children) will be drawn after the second measurement point (autumn 2020) to take part in the intervention study. Out of these children, 135 will be randomly assessed to practice groups and 45 children will be drawn for a control group that does not take part in the practice sessions but will undergo the same measurements as the other groups. In the practice groups, children engage in various activities related to motor and/or early numeracy skills, which are intended to support the children’s learning of early numeracy skills. The practice groups get together two times per week for a period of eight weeks, during a regular day at the preschool. The practice groups consist of 4–6 children and are led by an adult. In addition to the longitudinal study's measurements, the children in the intervention study will have an opportunity to participate in the EEG measurements. The EEG measurements will be conducted for volunteers alongside with the other intervention study’s measurements, which are taken before the practice sessions, immediately after, and eight weeks after they end.

The EEG measurements measure the electrical activity of the brain for children who volunteer for that part of the study. Both the children from the practice groups and the children from the control group will be able to participate in the measurements. During the measurement, the child wears a light-weight cap, to which the sensors are attached. During the measurement the children will complete 30 minute tasks, which consist of mathematical assignments and identifying animals. Participation in the EEG measurements is safe for the child and it will take place at the child’s preschool without significantly affecting the child's daily schedule.

All research materials will be handled on absolutely confidential basis. All paper materials are converted into an electronic format and any information which could be used to link the child to the collected research material is removed. The electronic materials will be stored on the university’s server, which can only be accessed by members of the research staff using their personal user IDs and passwords. Reporting on the results will not disclose anyone’s identity and the information will only be used for research purposes. The group of researchers will store the paper materials in a locked facility at the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Helsinki inside a locked cabinet until the research is completed. The paper materials will be destroyed by the end of 2022. A privacy notification, as required by the Personal Data Act, has been submitted for the research and you can access the finnish version of the privacy notification from the link below.