Even five-year-olds have an intuitive understanding of numbers. Shown are example exercises from the experiments of psychologists to Elizabeth Spelke. Graphic: Camilla Gilmore
Reading aloud Already at the age of five to six years, children can roughly estimate the addition or subtraction of two large numbers. They already have this intuitive numerical understanding before the first formal math class starts at school, psychologists have discovered around Harvard scientist Elizabeth Spelke. Tasks like "Sarah has 21 sweets and gets 30 to it. John has 34 candies. Who has more? "The kindergarten children were able to answer correctly to 65 percent. The children do not type randomly but already have an intuitive ability to estimate and link numbers and quantities. The results could also make mathematics education more attractive and motivating for children, the researchers write. The researchers studied the numerical understanding by showing the children various pictures of candies, stickers, biscuits or toys. Numbers ranging from 5 to 98 were printed on these items. Using this arrangement, arithmetic tasks were then formulated for adding, subtracting, or comparing numbers. For example, one subtraction task was "Sarah has 64 cookies and gives 13. John has 34 cookies. Who has more? "For all types of tasks, the children performed better than if they had guessed. The researchers conclude that the children already have the ability to estimate large numbers and simple arithmetic operations even before they learn the mathematically accurate arithmetic at school.

Learning the addition and subtraction of formal numbers is tedious and difficult for children, and school mathematics allow for only one exact solution to an addition or subtraction problem, the researchers write. Often, this leads to frustrating experiences when the result is not entirely accurate. However, as the new study shows, the expectant students already have an intuitive, but not exact estimation capability for arithmetic tasks. The researchers now want to investigate how this ability can be used to better communicate the exact computing world with formal numbers to the children.

Elizabeth Spelke (Harvard University, Cambridge) et al .: Nature, Vol. 447, p. 589 ddp / science.de? Martin Schäfer

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