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Cognition. 2008 Sep;108(3):675-86. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.05.011. Epub 2008 Jul 14.

Number words in young children's conceptual and procedural knowledge of addition, subtraction and inversion.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, The University of Melbourne, Australia.


Three studies addressed children's arithmetic. First, 50 3- to 5-year-olds judged physical demonstrations of addition, subtraction and inversion, with and without number words. Second, 20 3- to 4-year-olds made equivalence judgments of additions and subtractions. Third, 60 4- to 6-year-olds solved addition, subtraction and inversion problems that varied according to the inclusion of concrete referents and number words. The results indicate that number words play a different role in conceptual and procedural development. Children have strong addition and subtraction concepts before they can translate the physical effects of these operations into number words. However, using number words does not detract from their calculation procedures. Moreover, consistent with iterative relations between conceptual and procedural development, the results suggest that inversion acquisition depends on children's calculation procedures and that inversion understanding influences these procedures.

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