Study Shows That Kids Can Add and Subtract Without Arithmetic

This article in Scientific American got my attention when I was  searching to see if Scientific American has a kids magazine (I can’t seem to find one…anyone know?)

Seems that they have done a study that shows that “young children can crudely add and subtract numbers before they have learned the rules of arithmetic”:

To find out, they gave several groups of children a laptop-based audiovisual test that asked whether one person had more or fewer candies or other objects than another person. The screen showed numbers to be added, such as 21 and 30, or subtracted, such as 64 and 13, followed by another number, such as 34, with which to compare the added or subtracted value.

The children answered correctly from 64 to 73 percent of the time, according to a report published online today by Nature.

Looks like kids without formal instruction in arithmetic can still have a basic understanding of it. My favorite quote from the article was from cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University:

“We never dreamed that you could simply give children the symbols and they will succeed,” she says.

And my second favorite quote:

Teachers were skeptical of the experiment because arithmetic lessons easily frustrate children, but “the kids really loved these problems,” she says. “It looks to us like a big part of the logic of addition and subtraction is already available to them.”

Veeery interesting….I wonder if half the enjoyment was at being asked to try to figure it out for themselves rather then being told how to do it?


About throwingmarshmallows

I am a homeschooling mom to two sweet, energetic boys although I am probably not exactly what you would expect (definitely NOT your stereotypical homeschooler, if there is really such a thing). I support progressive political causes (yes, liberals can and do homeschool!) and I have found a spiritual home in the Unitarian Universalist Church. I have no real idea of how I want to use this blog, but will probably focus on homeschooling, things that I am learning from my boys, personal thoughts and opinions and maybe some liberal politics thrown in, who knows!
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3 Responses to Study Shows That Kids Can Add and Subtract Without Arithmetic

  1. kim says:

    Isn’t that weird that they had to do a study to figure that out? Any parent who has had a conversation with a 2 to 7-year- old knows they can add and subtract perfectly well. Not to mention multiply and divide in most cases.

    I haven’t gotten to any place value explanations with my 7-year-old yet,and still he can figure out how to add tens and hundreds. Just this evening he said “Ten years ago you were 29. And soon you’ll be 40.” I think the kids these days know too much!

  2. Brit says:

    Just wanted to say Hello! We are moving to VA this summer, and we are very excited about it. I joined the VAEclecticHS group this morning, which I heard about through your site. Thank you for all the information!

  3. Stephanie says:

    Glad I could help Brit! Be sure to check out as well. Tons of great information there. And if you are moving any where near Richmond, you don’t want to miss the VaHomeschoolers conference on July 21st!

    Good luck with your move!