Not adding up: Kids are sick of math after just 3 years!

🔑 Key Findings:

  • Young kids really like math when they start school, but that fades quickly
  • As a child’s interest in math fades, their skills drop off as well
  • Interest in math appeared to decline more among young girls

KUOPIO, Finland — While some students naturally prefer subjects like math and science over history or literature, generally speaking, it isn’t a stretch to say that plenty of young minds would prefer not to spend their time on fractions, square roots, and long division. Now, interesting new research finds that most young children actually enjoy math quite a bit during their early days in school, but those positive feelings sour just three years later!

Study authors from the University of Southern Finland add changes in interest and self-concept also show an association with each other. Put another way, if a child’s interest in math fades, so do their skills, and vice versa.

These conclusions come from a recent study conducted in Finland exploring the development of children’s motivations for mathematics during their early school years and whether that development shows an association with their competence in the subject. Researchers tracked nearly 300 children for three years.

“A significant observation was that both school beginners’ higher initial motivation, and less decline in motivation during the follow-up, predicted better competence in the third grade, after accounting for initial differences in competence,” says Professor Markku Niemivirta of the University of Eastern Finland, in a media release.

Children doing homework or school work
Most young children actually enjoy math quite a bit during their early days in school, but those positive feelings sour just three years later! (Credit: Katerina Holmes from Pexels)

Researchers noted no gender differences regarding school beginners’ motivation and competence, but by the end of the follow-up, girls’ motivation had, on average, declined more than among boys. Additionally, the study details how children are quite capable of assessing their motivation for mathematics accurately upon first beginning school. Moreover, students’ assessments of their interests and competence are already differentiated, regardless of being closely related.

“It is only natural that children are more interested in things they feel good at. And vice versa, they may do better in something they’re interested in.”

On average, a school beginner’s positive math motivation starts to decline during early school years, but the extent of that decline correlates with later differences in competence. While no gender differences are apparent in regards to competence, girls’ more negative changes in motivation, on average, reflect an unfortunate gendered development that displays visible traces until much later.

The negative changes observed in the study may partially reflect children’s more realistic self-assessments over time. Study authors theorize the fact that math gradually gets more difficult as one progresses through school plays a role in all of this, as well as teachers placing such a major emphasis on performance.

“The observed association between a change in motivation and competence shows, however, the added value of positive interest and self-concept. It would be important to develop and apply teaching practices that support and maintain children’s interest in mathematics and strengthen their experiences of success,” Prof. Niemivirta concludes.

The study is published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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