Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them


It has been common belief that children under five could not learn math because their brains weren’t ready, but recent research is challenging that assumption. Cognitive neuroscience is working to define exactly when it is best to introduce fundamental concepts to young brains. Some such studies have found that most children entering preschool are able to perform rudimentary division and that, contrary to current curricula, the brain may not be fully able to link letters to sounds until age 11. Recent research also suggests that infants are able to distinguish one object from two and two objects from three.

According to the article below, “By preschool, the brain can handle larger numbers and is struggling to link three crucial concepts: physical quantities (seven marbles, seven inches) with abstract digit symbols (“7”), with the corresponding number words (“seven”).” These lessons are crucial for basic math comprehension in kindergarten. Studies in geometry have found that kids as young as 18 months start recognizing shapes and that by preschool the brain can start to understand informal geometric definitions. Sharon Griffin, a psychologist at Clark University in Worcester, MA says, “If children have games and activities that demonstrate the relationship between numbers, then quantity becomes a physical experience. Counting, by contrast, is very abstract.”

How can current curricula incorporate cognitive neuroscience research? How can teachers be more versatile integrating math learning with basic physical activities?

In what ways can math curricula be formatted around physical experiences?

How can parents emphasize mathematical concepts at home before formal schooling begins?


The New York Times
December 21, 2009
Brain Power
Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them

BUFFALO — Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.

But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.

“You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here,” he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. “That’s it. See?”

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