If your preschooler demonstrates early numerical ability, do you wonder how that might influence math performance in later, school years? After all, Albert Einstein indicated “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” How might the purity of a child’s early number sense influence structural achievements in later learning?
New research from the Math Skills Development Project at Kennedy Krieger Institute offers data revealing a predictive correlation between early numerical talent and later math performance in school.
Kennedy Krieger Institute study
Results of a new study, published in the award-winning journal PLoSONE, shows that children’s ability to make numerical estimates in preschool predicted their performance on mathematical tests taken in elementary school, more than two years later. The relationship appears to be specific to math ability, because preschool number skills did not predict other abilities, such as expressive vocabulary or the ability to quickly name objects like letters or numbers.
The research from the Kennedy Krieger Institute reports that the precision with which preschoolers estimate quantities, prior to any formal education in mathematics, predicts their mathematics ability in elementary school.
Humans have an intuitive number sense
Dr. Michele Mazzocco, Director of the Math Skills Development Project at Kennedy Krieger Institute and lead author of the study, indicates, “Children vary widely in both their numerical and non-numerical cognitive abilities at all ages. Based on earlier data showing a relationship between intuitive number skills and formal mathematics, we were interested to learn whether numerical skills measured prior to schooling predict the level of mathematics skills children demonstrate years later, in a formal educational setting.”
Humans have an intuitive sense of number that allows them, for example, to readily identify which of two containers has more objects without counting. This ability is present at birth, and gradually improves throughout childhood. Although it’s easier to compare quantities if the amounts differ greatly (such as 30 versus 15 objects), greater precision is needed when comparing items that are much closer in number.
When this ability is measured during the school age years, it correlates with mathematics achievement. The recent study by Mazzocco, along with researchers Lisa Feigenson and Justin Halberda of Johns Hopkins University, indicate this intuitive ability serves as a foundation for school-age math abilities.
Further study needed to determine shaping influences
“It was striking to find evidence that basic number abilities at such a young age may play a role in formal math achievement,” said Mazzocco. “But additional studies are needed to determine whether these skills are malleable at an early age, how they contribute to math achievement and if they are related to other known influences on math performance.”
Albert Einstein also indicated, “The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.” As research brings further light into the human mind’s ability to intuit mathematical forms, customized learning strategies to increase math performance may be adapted and individualized for maximum achievement. And, looking ahead, parents and educators may learn how to transform intuitive mathematics abilities in all learners to build critical math performance at all levels.