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Improving preschoolers’ number foundations

Researchers: Dr Jo Van Herwegen | Dr Chris Donlan

Project overview

Number sense ‘ also known as the Approximate Number System (ANS) ‘ is our ability to estimate and compare quantities at a glance, without counting them.

Research has shown that ANS in preschoolers is an important predictor for later mathematical difficulties. Around 4 to 14% of all children go on to develop difficulties with learning maths later on in life, and these difficulties can be detected one year before children start school.

This study will focus on children who are at risk for difficulties with learning maths. It will build on previous work by Dr Van Herwegen, who has designed and piloted games to improve preschoolers’ ANS abilities as well as their general maths abilities and working memory.

The study will investigate:

  • Which preschool children are at risk for mathematical learning difficulties
  • Whether the games can improve their ANS abilities
  • Whether improving ANS abilities in these preschoolers has an effect on their mathematical abilities in the short-term, and four months later.

This project will pave the way for a trialled and theoretically based training programme to be established in nurseries and preschools, for preschoolers at risk for mathematical learning difficulties. It also aims to influence educational policy by showing how organised games in preschool settings can give children the number skills and working memory abilities needed for primary school.

A better understanding of the impact of the games could also show how they might help children with less common developmental disorders such as Williams syndrome, who show similar number difficulties.

Latest on this project


  • Dr Jo Van Herwegen
    Kingston University
  • Dr Chris Donlan
    University College London

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

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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.

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