Improving the Numerical Understanding of Children From Low-Income Families


  • This research was supported by Department of Education IES Grants R305H020060 and R305H050035. Thanks to Geetha Ramani, who collaborated on the research, and to the Allegheny and Westmoreland County Intermediate Unit Head Start classrooms that participated.

concerning this article should be addressed to Robert S. Siegler, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213; e-mail:


Abstract— Children from low-income backgrounds enter school with much less mathematical knowledge than their more affluent peers. These early deficits have long-term consequences; children who start behind generally stay behind. This article describes how a theoretical analysis of the development of number sense gave rise to an intervention that reduces this gap by producing large, rapid, and broad improvements in the mathematical competence of low-income preschoolers. Roughly, an hour of playing a simple, inexpensive, linear number board game produces gains in numerical magnitude comparison, number line estimation, counting, and numeral identification. Reasons for these large gains are discussed.