A Multi-Lab Investigation of the Conceptual Foundations of Early Number Development
Effective Years: 2022-2026
Preschool numeracy is a crucial foundation for STEM learning and long-term academic success. Previous research suggests that the development of strong numeracy skills depends on a combination of perceptual, cognitive, and language skills. However, most past studies have focused on a relatively small and homogeneous groups of children in US urban areas. As a result, current understanding of early numeracy may not
generalize to diverse groups of learners. It is likely that home language background, socio-economic status, and geographic and cross-cultural differences could also influence numeracy development. To address this, and to probe what factors drive early numeracy in a representative sample, this first-of-its-kind project investigates how toddlers and preschool-aged children perceive, reason, and talk about numbers in a massive multi-lab collaboration involving over 130 research sites worldwide.
To investigate early numeracy, this collaborative project includes two foundational studies. The first study focuses on how 2- to 5-year-old children perceive quantity, learn number words, and how to accurately count groups of objects. The study examines variability in how children learn about number and quantity while exploring the underlying perceptual, cognitive and linguistic mechanisms that drive their learning. The second foundational study focuses on toddler’s abilities to keep track of small groups of objects, which researchers have argued may play an especially important role in early numerical learning. This study examines variability across larger and more diverse groups of participants than previously studied. The study also asks whether limits to children’s object tracking abilities change when they begin to learn number words. In addition to these foundational studies, the project supports the creation of multiple exploratory studies, allowing for novel, ground-breaking collaborations between researchers worldwide. These exploratory studies examine how numerical abilities are related to diverse phenomena including but not limited to social cognition, linguistic diversity, cognitive abilities like executive function, and cross-cultural differences in mathematics education and attitudes. Collectively, these studies will test over 3000 children in 28 US states and 27 countries, using a combination of cross-sectional and longitudinal behavioral assessments. Final data will be shared with the broader scientific community, and will be presented on a website in simplified form to make findings accessible to the broader public.
This project is funded by the EHR Core Research (ECR) program, which supports work that advances fundamental research on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.