Social Competency and Mathematical Understanding Among Latino Kindergarteners

May 10, 2010

By Teresa Lim

In the latest issue of the journal, Developmental Psychology, researchers devote a special section on the growth and development of Latino children starting in early childhood. One of the articles in the section, "The Social Competence of Latino Kindergarteners and Growth in Mathematical Understanding," presents a study that found that most young Latino children, particularly those from middle-class households, entered kindergarten with no major difference in social competency compared to White children. Disparities in social competency were generally modest and primarily evident among the poorest Latino families and specific Latino subgroups based on a family's region of origin. In addition, researchers found that Latino children who entered kindergarten with stronger social skills made greater gains in math comprehension over the school year. These children showed steeper learning curves in math. This correlation was statistically significant across six measures of social competency: social competency: approaches to learning, self-control, interpersonal skills, internalizing problem behaviors, and externalizing problem behaviors. Among the six measures, approaches to learning, was the most strongly linked to greater growth in mathematical understanding. In further studies presented in the section, researchers found that Latino families have strong parenting and cultural practices that promote learning and social skills among young children.

The new research findings highlight the importance of understanding the family and cultural contexts in which young children develop and learn. Young children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may acquire skills and knowledge important for school success and beyond through different cultural approaches and practices. To build on rather than weaken these early assets, high-quality child care and early education needs to be responsive to the needs and customs of these diverse children and their families. States can play a critical role by implementing policies that help prepare early care providers in serving children from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds, while ensuring that appropriate supports and resources are available to these children and their families.

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