Cognitive and Educational Foundations of Preschool Mathematics

Most research into the foundations of emerging mathematical skills focuses either on non-symbolic "number sense" or on attentional and executive skills.

This project focuses not only on those skills, but also on how exactly preschool children acquire numerical symbols. This is a key predictor of how well children will go on to achieve in maths.

The study will also explore how preschoolers' informal experiences with maths – for example at home – affect their numeracy development. Although we know that children's home environment has an impact on their early literacy, less is known about how this affects numeracy.

The project will collect cross-sectional and longitudinal data from preschoolers in order to develop a comprehensive model of the cognitive and educational foundations of numerical skills. It will do this by:

  • investigating how general foundations of maths (e.g. attention and executive functions) and specific foundations (e.g. number sense and symbolic understanding) interact with each other over time

  • assessing the impact of informal educational opportunities in the home and preschool environment on early maths skills

  • working with cognitive scientists, educational experts and practitioners to explore how future interventions might work in the preschool classroom.

Project details



Professor Gaia Scerif and Dr Ann Dowker, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford

Professor Victoria Murphy, Department of Education, University of Oxford

Professor Daniel Ansari, University of Western Ontario

Grant amount and duration:


1 August 2016 - 31 March 2019