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The influence of cognition and the home environment on early numeracy

Researchers: Dr Fiona Simmons | Dr Anne-Marie Adams ...

Project overview

This project examines the influence of the home learning environment, language skills and cognitive abilities on children’s early number skills.

Although the main focus is on the influence of the home learning environment, the researchers also analyse other factors, such as the quality of the preschool environment and socioeconomic status.

Understanding the factors that support the development of early numbers skills is important, because these skills are excellent predictors of later mathematical attainment.


Study 1 – Preschool and Reception Year

August 2016 – January 2019  |  £151,609

During the children’s preschool year (the academic year in which they turn 4), the researchers assessed the quality of their home learning environment and preschool experience, and assessed each child’s number skills. This was followed by an assessment of each child’s cognitive and language skills.

One year later – in the summer term of the children’s Reception year – the researchers re-assessed the children’s number skills. 270 children took part in the initial stage of the project and 230 children took part in the final assessments.

The team used this longitudinal data to examine three key questions:

  • To what extent do preschool language and cognitive skills predict growth in early number skills?
  • To what extent do aspects of the home learning environment that relate to number, language and literacy predict growth in early number skills?

How directly does the quality of the home learning environment influence early number skills, and how does this relate to the promotion of language skills?

The findings from study 1 underline the importance of children’s preschool language skills in supporting the development of both early reading and early number skills. They suggest that preschool home learning experiences that focus on the sounds within words and the sounds that letters make, will be supportive both of preschoolers’ developing language and their number skills.

The findings support the integration of interactions that focus on letters and letter sounds into pre-schoolers everyday experiences. Such interactions can be instigated by parents or early years practitioners and do not need to be ‘formal’. Informal interactions could include talking about sounds at the start of words in rhymes or songs, identifying letters and the sounds they make in environmental print or talking about letter sounds when sharing books or toys.


Study 2 – Year 1 and Year 2 (Key Stage 1)

January 2019 – December 2020  |  £168,191

This study aims to follow the same children as they progress through Key Stage 1. It will examine the influence of the preschool home learning environment on later mathematics and literacy attainment.

By continuing to measure growth in the children’s mathematics attainment, as well as assessing their literacy skills, the study aims to answer the following questions:

  1. To what extent do preschool number, language and cognitive skills predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1?
  2. To what extent does the preschool HLE predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1?
  3. To what extent does the primary HLE predict mathematics and literacy outcomes during Key Stage 1? Does the primary HLE modify any influence of the preschool HLE?

Addressing these questions will enable the researchers to provide specific, evidence-based advice to parents, Early Years Professionals and primary teachers on the impact of specific home learning experiences on developing mathematics and literacy skills.

Latest on this project


  • Dr Fiona Simmons
    Liverpool John Moores University
  • Dr Anne-Marie Adams
    Liverpool John Moore University
  • Dr Catherine Willis
    Liverpool John Moore University

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.