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“Most of the gap comes from what goes on in the home,” Duncan said. “It’s not to say cognitive ability doesn’t play a role, but much of the gaps are caused by differences in parenting practices.”

Reading and math lessons are easily disguised as exciting activities, said Silvia P. Tarafa, principal of the Key Biscayne (Fla.) K-8 Center.

Most people read with kids, but don’t forget to introduce nonfiction books about their interests, such as dinosaurs or sharks, she said. Bake cakes often, relying on your measuring cups or sticks of butter to help with fractions. At the store, compare prices together and try to pay cash for the subtraction equation you’ll get in return.

Don’t miss the opportunity to demonstrate that four quarters make a dollar, or any other useful coin combinations. When they paint pictures, frame the masterpieces, which requires measuring the length, width and perimeter — but feel free to calculate the area of the picture too.

“When a child has heard the concepts at an early age,” Tarafa said, “that child will make a connection to the concept when it’s introduced by a teacher.”

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