Preschoolers’ ways of experiencing numbers


  • Camilla Björklund Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Anna-Lena Ekdahl School of Education and Communication, Jönköping University, Sweden
  • Angelika Kullberg Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Maria Reis Department of Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg, Sweden



phenomenography, variation theory, mathematics education, arithmetic, numbers, preschoolers


In this paper we direct attention to 5–6-year-olds’ learning of arithmetic skills through a thorough analysis of changes in the children’s ways of encountering and experiencing numbers. The foundation for our approach is phenomenographic, in that our object of analysis is differences in children’s ways of completing an arithmetic task, which are considered to be expressions of their ways of experiencing numbers and what is possible to do with numbers. A qualitative analysis of 103 children’s ways of encountering the task gives an outcome space of varying ways of experiencing numbers. This is further analyzed through the lens of variation theory of learning, explaining why differences occur and how observed changes over a prolonged period of time can shed light on how children learn the meaning of numbers, allowing them to solve arithmetic problems. The results show how observed changes are liberating new and powerful problem-solving strategies. Emanating from empirical research, the results of our study contribute to the theoretical understanding of young children’s learning of arithmetic skills, taking the starting point in the child’s lived experiences rather than cognitive processes. This approach to interpreting learning, we suggest, has pedagogical implications concerning what is fundamental to teach children for their further development in mathematics.


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How to Cite

Björklund, C., Ekdahl, A.-L., Kullberg, A., & Reis, M. (2022). Preschoolers’ ways of experiencing numbers. LUMAT: International Journal on Math, Science and Technology Education, 10(2), 84–110.