How young children learn about numbers

“As in other areas of language development, it appears children infer the meanings of [multi-digit] numbers using whatever experiences they can access.”

This is one of several conclusions a group of researchers at Michigan State University and Indiana University drew from their study of 3 \frac{1}{2} through 7 year olds (pdf). (Read the Washington Post’s report on the research here.) In particular, these researchers were studying the place value knowledge of young children, trying to understand whether they learn multi-digit numbers logically through direct study or culturally through everyday experience.

Examples of Tabitha’s recent experiences with multi-digit numbers.

Their study made clear that children absorb a lot of information about multi-digit numbers through their everyday experiences.

These researchers provide compelling evidence that young children (as young as 3 \frac{1}{2} years old) connect number words (fifty-seven) to numerals (57). Children can use their ideas about these numbers to identify and to compare numbers.

Talking Math with Your Kids is a project based on this premise. Children don’t need iPad apps to teach about numbers, they need conversations about the numbers in their worlds.

If we are aware of the importance of these experiences, parents can provide more opportunities for children to think about these numbers. Some examples from this blog include Days to Christmas, The Biggest Number, Uncle Wiggily, and Counting by Fives.

6 thoughts on “How young children learn about numbers

  1. Talking about and using numbers in different, every day contexts is extremely important to young children. There are so many opportunities for parents to engage with their children about numbers. Fab post with great links! Thank you.

  2. Unfortunately, the link to the research paper no longer works. I believe it is the first publication listed By Kelly Mix under publications on this page, but I do not have access to that document.

  3. Pingback: Young children are more logical than you think they are | Talking Math with Your Kids

  4. Pingback: What Makes a Pattern? | Overthinking my teaching

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