One afternoon, Lori Anderson and her 7-year-old, Lindsey, spotted a small maple tree in La Mirada, California. Anderson asked her daughter how many leaves she thought were on the tree. Lindsey’s guess? “Probably a million.”
Lindsey can grasp the concept of large numbers, and she knows that a million is a lot of leaves. She doesn’t yet have the tools to make a true estimation on her own, but scientists say this is a crucial skill for children to learn.
Estimation is more than just a guess—it’s a conclusion that comes from a methodical thought process using data and facts. “We don’t just look at something and estimate. We discuss with other people how to approach it or how to look at proportions,” says Rebecca Mannis, a learning specialist who’s focused on neuroscience and education. “We also have to be able to imagine how details fit together.”