Publication Date



Numeracy, Mathematical thinking, Number sense, Preschool children, Toddlers, Infants, Young children, Computation, Neuroscience, Brain research


Changing minds: Discussions in neuroscience, psychology and education Issue #2 July 2016


Children think mathematically long before they start school. Before children start learning mathematics at school, they show informal understanding of many numeracy concepts. This is informal numeracy knowledge, that is, skills that children develop before starting school that do not depend on written mathematical notation (Purpura & Napoli, 2015). For example, children’s numeracy knowledge is evident in their developing counting skills. It is also evident in their capacity to compare, share, order, estimate and calculate different quantities. Fundamental skills in recognising and responding to numerical cues are apparent in infancy, and, at a very basic level, may be innate. Early numeracy skills influence achievement in school mathematics (Malofeeva, Day, Saco, Young, & Ciancio, 2004; Purpura & Napoli, 2015; Starkey, Klein & Wakeley, 2004). Understanding the importance and development of preschoolers’ numeracy skills is fundamental for those involved in early years education so they can support and encourage children to develop their skills in early learning contexts, and provide appropriate school-entry teaching and learning (Floyd, Hojnoski, & Key, 2006). This review synthesises current research from neuroscience, psychology and education to highlight some key findings in the development of preschool children’s early numeracy skills. The review focuses on three areas: origins of preschoolers’ numeracy skills, important numeracy skills in preschoolers’ development, and connections between preschoolers’ numeracy skills and their later school achievement. The purpose of the review is to highlight a selection of relevant research findings. It is not intended to be an exhaustive review of the literature. The aim is to emphasise the significance of preschool children’s early numeracy development and to argue for the importance of fostering early numeracy in early childhood contexts.

Place of Publication

Melbourne Vic


Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)