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The focus of this entry is the development of children’s sense of relative magnitude involving symbolic (verbal or written) numbers. In order to better understand young children’s perspective on relative magnitude, consider the following exchange by a 5.5-year-old girl, Arianne, with her father (the author) on his 42nd birthday:

  • “How old are you today, Daddy?”
  • “Forty-two.”
  • “Is that close to a hundred, Daddy?”

Arianne’s follow-up question illustrates an important phenomenon in this development of number knowledge. For the 5.5-year-old, the difference in the magnitude of familiar numbers such “four” and “ten” was clear—“ten” and “four” represented clearly distinct magnitudes, the former was much more than the latter, and psychologically “ten” was far apart from “four.” For Arianne, though, the difference in the magnitude of unfamiliar numbers such as “forty-two” ...

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