account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Cognitive and educational foundations of preschool mathematics

Researchers: Professor Gaia Scerif | Dr Ann Dowker ...

Project overview

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.


  • Professor Gaia Scerif
    University of Oxford
  • Dr Ann Dowker
    University of Oxford
  • Professor Victoria Murphy
    University of Oxford
  • Professor Daniel Ansari
    University of Western Ontario

  • Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.