Psychologists at Harvard University have found that five-year-olds are able to grasp numeric abstractions and arithmetic concepts even without the formal education or language to express this knowledge in words. The discovery of these inborn skills among preschoolers could point the way to new teaching techniques, making arithmetic easier and more pleasant for elementary school children. A paper describing the findings will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is now on the journal's web site.
"Teaching symbolic arithmetic is one of the primary tasks of the first four years of elementary education," says co-author Elizabeth S. Spelke, a professor of psychology in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Some children have enormous trouble mastering this skill, and most children find symbolic arithmetic challenging and, at times, confusing. Our studies say, however, that children already have a basic understanding of this domain. I hope our work points the way to improving mathematics education by building on this understanding."
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