Narrowing the Early Mathematics Gap: A Play-Based Intervention to Promote Low-Income Preschoolers’ Number Skills


  • Nicole R. Scalise
  • Emily N. Daubert
  • Geetha B. Ramani


Preschoolers from low-income households lag behind preschoolers from middle-income households on numerical skills that underlie later mathematics achievement. However, it is unknown whether these gaps exist on parallel measures of symbolic and non-symbolic numerical skills. Experiment 1 indicated preschoolers from low-income backgrounds were less accurate than peers from middle-income backgrounds on a measure of symbolic magnitude comparison, but they performed equivalently on a measure of non-symbolic magnitude comparison. This suggests activities linking non-symbolic and symbolic number representations may be used to support children’s numerical knowledge. Experiment 2 randomly assigned low-income preschoolers (Mean Age = 4.7 years) to play either a numerical magnitude comparison or a numerical matching card game across four 15 min sessions over a 3-week period. The magnitude comparison card game led to significant improvements in participants’ symbolic magnitude comparison skills in an immediate posttest assessment. Following the intervention, low-income participants performed equivalently to an age- and gender-matched sample of middle-income preschoolers in symbolic magnitude comparison. These results suggest a brief intervention that combines non-symbolic and symbolic magnitude representations can support low-income preschoolers’ early numerical knowledge.