## A way to help preschoolers learn symbolic approximate arithmetic Symbolic approximate arithmetic, crucial for children’s mathematical proficiency, involves providing an approximate answer instead of an exact one. For instance, a previous study found that preschoolers did not know the exact answer to “21+30” but did know that “21+30” is larger than “34”. Both number comparison training and number line estimation training have been found separately to enhance children’s symbolic approximate arithmetic. Wei and colleagues conducted an experiment to compare the effect of these two trainings on symbolic approximate arithmetic since they may rely on distinct cognitive processes.

A sample of 109 children, aged 5.11 to 6.27 years, were recruited from three middle-class preschools in Hangzhou, China. They were randomly assigned to one of three training groups: (1) number line estimation (n = 32), (2) number comparison (n = 34), and (3) control group (n = 30). In the number line estimation group, the game played by children aimed to help them understand of the distance between two numbers. In the number comparison group, participants were involved in comparing the magnitudes of two number cards. This training facilitates the development of children’s understanding of the semantic magnitude of numbers.

Children in the two treatment groups engaged in training games three times in one week, while the control group received no training. All participants completed a pre-test and post-test, which included tasks on symbolic approximate arithmetic (e.g., comparing “13＋22” to “28” to determine which is greater), number comparison (determining the larger number between two), and number line estimation (marking an integer on a number line ranging from 0 to 100).

• The results revealed that preschoolers in the number comparison group outperformed the control group in all three tasks.
• Only number comparison training improved performance in symbolic approximate arithmetic.

This suggests that preschoolers rely more on comparison processing than on number line estimation for approximate arithmetic. The authors acknowledged that the brief training duration may have limited the effects, indicating a need for further investigation.

Source: Wei, W., Liao, H., Deng, W., & Ye, Q. (2023). Training on number comparison, but not number line estimation, improves preschoolers’ symbolic approximate arithmetic. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 65, 241–249. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2023.07.004