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Abstract

Since young children spend the majority of their time at home, promoting parent-child math engagement could help eliminate early math achievement gaps even before children start formal schooling. However, many adults experience math anxiety – the fear or apprehension of doing math (Ashcraft, 2002) – which may undermine the efficacy of parent-child interactions around math (e.g., Maloney et al., 2015). In three studies I explore the role that parents’ math anxiety plays in shaping the exposure that children receive to math at home and ask whether an intervention designed to support parents in talking to their children about math can have a positive impact on children’s math learning and achievement. In Study 1, I find that parent math anxiety impacts the quantity and quality of even the earliest form of parent-child math interactions, parent number talk. In Study 2 I then demonstrate that parent math anxiety relates to differences in a parent’s level of involvement in their child’s math education as they enter kindergarten, and these differences relate to children’s math knowledge at the start of school. Finally, in Study 3 I examine whether introducing a math-related iPad app (which parents and children use together) can help ameliorate the negative effects of parent math anxiety on student achievement. I find that the math intervention promotes student math learning for those students with math anxious parents. The results of these three studies enhance our understanding of the intergenerational impact of math anxiety and demonstrate the importance of cultivating a deeper understanding of the obstacles parents face in engaging in their children’s math education in order to develop effective interventions.

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