Early numeracy provides the foundation of acquiring mathematical skills that is essential for future academic success. This study examined numerical functional networks in relation to counting and number relational skills in preschoolers at 4 and 6 years of age. The counting and number relational skills were assessed using school readiness test (SRT). Resting-state fMRI (rs-fMRI) was acquired in 123 4-year-olds and 146 6-year-olds. Among them, 61 were scanned twice over the course of 2 years. Meta-analysis on existing task-based numeracy fMRI studies identified the left parietal-dominant network for both counting and number relational skills and the right parietal-dominant network only for number relational skills in adults. We showed that the fronto-parietal numerical networks, observed in adults, already exist in 4-year and 6-year-olds. The counting skills were associated with the bilateral fronto-parietal network in 4-year-olds and with the right parietal-dominant network in 6-year-olds. Moreover, the number relational skills were related to the bilateral fronto-parietal and right parietal-dominant networks in 4-year-olds and had a trend of the significant relationship with the right parietal-dominant network in 6-year-olds. Our findings suggested that neural fine-tuning of the fronto-parietal numerical networks may subserve the maturation of numeracy in early childhood.
Keywords: Counting; Fronto-parietal network; Number relation; Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging; School readiness test.