Mathematical Processing in Young Children

The importance of practicing basic math skills with young children early on is widely accepted by parents and educators; but at what age does a child begin to benefit from math-based activities?

abacus-288x162Lisa Feigenson of John Hopkins University was recently honored by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for her achievements in neuroscience and psychological and cognitive sciences. Fiegenson’s research demonstrates the early stages of mathematical reasoning in very young children. NAS states,

Feigenson… demonstrated… that infants between 12 to 14 months of age can differentiate between one, two and three objects—but not four. Further experiments showed that the limit of three could be overcome by grouping objects in small sets, allowing infants to remember groups of up to eight objects. This is similar to what adults do to boost their memory, such as breaking up a phone number into three sets of digits. With such work, Feigenson and colleagues have illuminated some of the fundamental cognitive abilities that are in place early in life, which are subject to change as children learn through further experience.

7-8image7More research from John Hopkins University suggests that though children as young as 2 and 3 years old can habitually count objects, that most children do not understand the true quantitative value of numbers until age 4. Furthermore, research shows that children between ages 4 and 6 can do basic algebra with little effort. “They do it by using what we call their approximate number system, their gut-level, inborn sense of quantity and number (Melissa Kibbe).”

With all of these exciting research findings, how can we nurture these intuitive skills in our children through play-based activities? Zero to Three offers key math skills children will learn about in school and some ideas of how to foster these skills at home.  BedtimeMath.org offers a variety of activities, books, and daily math problems to make math as enjoyable as reading for both children and parents. There are also several great activity ideas for children ages 0 – 5 at MathAtPlay.org.

For more information about mathematical processing in young children, visit the following links:

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