Learning executive function and early mathematics: Directions of causal relations

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Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., & Germeroth, C. (2016). Learning executive function and early mathematics: Directions of causal relations. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 79–90.


Although there has been much recent attention to young children’s development of executive function and early mathematics, few studies have integrated the two. Here we review the evidence regarding executive function and mathematic achievement in the early years. After defining the executive function processes we consider, we briefly address the question of whether executive function can be taught in schools. We then turn to the relations between executive function and achievement. We begin with a review of the larger literature on correlations between the two, both concurrent and predictive. This leads to the fewer but more directly educationally-relevant causal studies. We conclude that developing both executive function processes and mathematical proficiencies is essential for young children and suggest that high-quality mathematics education may have the dual benefit of teaching this important content area and developing executive function processes.