Theoretical analyses of the development of numerical representations suggest that playing linear number board games, akin to Chutes and Ladders, should enhance young children’s numerical knowledge. Consistent with this prediction, playing such a game for roughly 1 hour increases low-income, urban preschoolers’ proficiency on a diverse set of numerical tasks: numerical magnitude comparison, number line estimation, counting, and numeral identification. The gains remain present 9 weeks later and are equally strong for African-American and Caucasian children. Playing an identical game, except for the squares varying in color rather than number (akin to Candy Land), does not improve performance on any measure. Moreover, preschoolers’ amount of home experience playing number board games is positively correlated with their numerical knowledge, whereas their experience playing card games and video games is not. Consistent with the hypothesis that children are acquiring a mental number line, playing linear board games leads to greater learning than playing circular games. Thus, playing linear, numerical board games with children from low-income backgrounds appears to increase their numerical knowledge and helps them start school on a more equal footing with classmate from more affluent backgrounds.
Review Robert S. Siegler’s biographical statement.