Parental use of relational language with 3-year-olds in math and spatial activities: A cross-cultural perspective
- Author(s): Zhang, Yu
- Advisor(s): Wang, Su-hua sw
- et al.
Relational reasoning lies at the core of math and spatial learning. Like other cognitive abilities, relational reasoning is intertwined with one’s own cultural experiences. Growing evidence has shown cross-cultural differences in attention to relation and object in East Asian and North American participants (Kuwabara & Smith, 2012; Masuda & Nisbett, 2001). However, our understanding of possible mechanisms beyond the cultural variations is limited. The present study aimed to fill this gap by examining how mothers from first-generation Chinese immigrant and European-American cultural backgrounds use relational language with their 3-year-olds in math-related activities in everyday contexts (e.g., home). Specifically, we examined parental use of three types of relational language (e.g., structural relation, object similarity, self-association) in three activities (e.g., 3-D puzzle play, sorting activity, book reading). Additionally, we examined cultural variations in parental language that directs children’s attention to labeling objects or events. As a secondary question, we investigated the correlation between parental relational language and children’s math performance in four tasks (e.g., modified TOSA, matching dots, counting, give-n-task). Twenty European-American (English-speaking) and 16 first generation Chinese immigrant (Chinese-speaking) families were observed mostly at home. Results showed that the Chinese immigrant mothers used a significantly higher proportion of structural relation in the puzzle and the sorting activities than European-American mothers. Chinese immigrant mothers also attended more to labeling objects or events than their counterparts. Generally, the mothers cross two groups used more structural relation in the puzzle and the sorting activities whereas they used more self-association in the book reading activity. No significant correlations were found between parental use of relational language and children’s math performance in the four tasks. Together, the findings suggest a culturally specific way of engaging young children in relational learning by Chinese immigrant mothers, and offer important insights into how parental language practice may serve as a potential mechanism of early childhood math and spatial learning.