Challenge 1

Three children with an adult playing a card game

Research has shown that substantial individual differences in mathematical achievement emerge early and can a child’s future outcomes. To identify why these individual differences exist we need to understand the early stages of mathematical learning. In this Challenge we are investigating children’s mathematical skills before they start school to find out how key mathematical understanding emerges. These findings will shed light on how we can best support children’s development in the early years.  

This work involves several different studies: 

  • A large-scale longitudinal study is tracking how children’s numerical skills develop between the ages of 3 and 4. This will reveal when children develop understanding of key numerical ideas and how different numerical skills emerge over time. 
  • A series of studies is investigating how children develop understanding of the first number words. Typically, children will be able to start using number words with meaning between the ages of 2 and 3. These studies will reveal how this initial understanding develops. 
  • We are exploring how children’s broader thinking skills, for example executive function skills and spatial skills, are involved in early mathematical skills. This will give insight into how children’s mathematical learning might be constrained or supported by general cognitive skills.