Gearing up for Math Readiness: Guiding Parents in Supporting Young Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children’s Early Math Development

The issue

While it is commonly known that the reading levels of deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students lag substantially behind their hearing peers, lesser known is the fact that these same students do not perform significantly better in mathematics.  Research indicates that, even prior to the beginning of formal schooling (around 5 years of age in the United States), DHH children are already performing a year behind their hearing peers in the area of mathematics. It is likely that one reason for these low levels of achievement is the restricted incidental learning experiences accessible to young DHH children. Furthermore, the mediation—or “scaffolding”—that parents are able to engage in naturally with their young hearing children may be much more challenging for the parents of a child with hearing loss, particularly if a language or communication system is not shared.

What we know

Prior to beginning their formal education, young hearing children encounter many informal learning situations that will prepare them for the mathematics they later will encounter in the classroom. Natural activities within the home environment, such as cooking, helping to set the table at mealtimes, playing simple counting and number games, and shopping, all contribute to young hearing children’s development of early mathematics concepts in a meaningful way. Additionally, the most salient characteristic of young hearing children’s early environments may be the fact that they are constantly surrounded by mathematical vocabulary and language; overhearing, for example, mom’s comments on how the child’s shoes are too small, or dad mentioning that they need to go to the store before going to the playground. With just these two simple vocabulary words the hearing child is learning about size and sequencing.

For young DHH children, early informal knowledge of mathematics may not be as readily accessible. Given the ramifications of hearing loss, DHH children, those with hearing parents in particular, may not be exposed to linguistically-presented mathematics concepts as frequently as their hearing peers. Some hearing parents with DHH children may find communication with their children challenging for a variety of reasons, including lack of knowledge of signed vocabulary that can be used to express mathematical concepts, inexperience with the process of gaining visual attention prior to communicating with the child, and language delays on the part of the child  Furthermore, rather than engaging in the time-consuming task of explaining a task such as matching socks or how to set the table to the DHH child, parents might find it easier to complete the task themselves. Given these challenges, young DHH children, may begin kindergarten with a foundation of early mathematics concept knowledge that differs from their hearing peers.

The good news is that intervention makes a difference.  For example, one intervention program, the Math Readiness Program: Parents as Partners (MRPP), was designed to work with the parents of young DHH children to mediate early mathematics within informal learning contexts prior to the onset of formal schooling.  Findings from research with this program indicate a change in parent behavior. Among other changes, parents became more observant of the mathematics that their children were naturally engaging in and began to interact with their children in ways that encouraged further learning.  Children became stronger participants within their environments and began to engage in mathematical explorations.  Use of mathematics vocabulary increased dramatically for both parents and children.  Post-intervention testing indicated higher levels of achievement from children whose families successfully completed the entire program, several of whom made more than one year of progress in less than a year’s time on a standardized assessment.

What we don’t know

What we don’t know is if the positive findings from math intervention programs for DHH children are lasting. Longitudinal research is necessary to answer this question, but the short term results, at least for the MRPP program, seem promising. However, such research also needs to be completed on a larger scale.


Waiting until school age to start intervening for achievement change is too late.  Emphasis needs to be placed on the early years and showing parents of young DHH children how to interact and engage with their children in ways that facilitate early learning. It is essential that intervention occur in the early years before the achievement gap has the chance to develop.

Posted on July 10, 2017 by
Karen L. Kritzer
Kent State University
kkritzer {at}


Further reading

Kritzer, K.L. (2008). Family mediation of mathematically based concepts while engaged in a problem-solving activity with their young deaf children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13, 503-517. view details

Kritzer, K.L. (2009). Barely started and already left behind: A descriptive analysis of the mathematics ability demonstrated by young deaf children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 14, 409 – 421. view details

Kritzer, K.L. & Pagliaro, C.M. (2012) An intervention for early mathematics success: Building Math Readiness Parents as Partners Project, Phase 1 Outcomes. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 17, 153-170.view details

Pagliaro, C.M. & Kritzer, K.L. (2013). The math gap: An analysis of the mathematics performance of deaf/hard-of-hearing preschool children. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 18, 139-160. view details