Research group

The Active Numeracy Group, led by professor Pirjo Aunio (University of Helsinki), consists of researchers, doctoral students and research assistants of the University of Helsinki, Åbo Akademi and University of Jyväskylä.

The group works in close collaboration with international scientists, who will provide their expertise in the fields of mathematical learning difficulties, fundamental motor skills development, early numeracy learning and children's physical and brain activity.

Pirjo Aunio, Professor in Special Education

I am professor in Special Education and head of Active Numeracy –research group. My research focus on understanding learning of mathematical skills and learning difficulties in mathematics. My central aim is to develop ways to identify children with mathematical learning difficulties and methods to support learning of core mathematical skills.


Johan Korhonen, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology
Arja Sääkslahti, Associate Professor of Children’s Physical Education

I am an associate professor of children’s physical education and a researcher at the University of Jyväskylä in the faculty of sport and health sciences. In my work, I strive to ensure that all children have a possibility to fulfil their right to play and be physically active. Therefore, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that we, as adults, provide enough opportunities for children to be physically active and learn in a way that is the most natural for them. I believe that "an active child is a playful and a happy child".

Mari Tervaniemi, Research Director

I am a psychologist and a researcher in education and learning. My aim is to investigate how music and other arts as well as physical activity can be used to support learning at different stages of school. In Active Early Numeracy -project, it is intriguing to examine the relationships between mathematical and motor skills in children before school age. In addition, I am interested in researching music’s effect on rehabilitation of neurological patients and on promoting general well-being.

University Lecturers
Airi Hakkarainen, University Lecturer in Special Education

I am PhD in Special Education, and I work as a university lecturer in special education. My research focus is on the development of mathematical skills and on mathematical learning difficulties. I have conducted follow-up studies of mathematical learning difficulties and their consequences on later educational pathway among both children and adolescents. My aim is to find efficient means to prevent mathematical difficulties from developing.

Anu Laine, University Lecturer

I am a docent in mathematics education and work as a university lecturer at the University of Helsinki. I have researched pupils’, pre-service teachers’ and teachers' mathematics-related affect and teaching and learning problem-solving. In Active Early Numeracy -project I'm involved especially in measuring and evaluating problem-solving knowledge.

Eero Haapala, Adjunct Professor in Paediatric Exercise Physiology

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Jyväskylä and my position is located at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences. My main interests are in the relationships of physical activity, dietary factors, fitness, fatness, and metabolic syndrome to brain, cognition, and academic achievement among children and adolescents. I have also published scientific articles on the associations of physical fitness, adiposity, and physical activity with arterial stiffness in children and adolescents.

Postdoctoral Researchers
Heidi Hellstrand, Postdoctoral Researcher
Anna Widlund, Postdoctoral Researcher
Eija Väisänen, Postdoctoral Researcher

I am PhD in Special Education and special education teacher. I work in elementary school and in university. My research focus is on mathematical learning difficulties. My aim is to find methods to support learning of core mathematical skills.

Pinja Jylänki, Doctoral Researcher

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oulu in the iFeelMath research project. My research interests focus on individual differences in mathematical development and how factors, such as mathematical anxiety, physical activity, and fundamental motor skills can affect mathematical development. I am particularly interested in developing intervention programs to support children’s mathematical learning during preschool and primary school years.

Doctoral Researchers
Anssi Vanhala, Doctoral Researcher

I am a physiotherapist and Master of Exercise Physiology. I´m especially interested in the effects of physical activity on health, physical performance, and well-being, and what are the mechanisms behind these associations. I feel that the opportunity to add scientific knowledge about the association between physical activity and learning is meaningful and fascinating. It is great to work in the research project, which has a possible impact on society and children’s future.

In Active Early Numeracy -project I work as a doctoral researcher and am responsible for the longitudinal part of the study. Measuring physical activity and motor skills are my areas of expertise in this project. My dissertation focuses on the developmental dynamics of physical activity, motor skills, and learning early numeracy in early childhood.

Terhi Vessonen, Doctoral Researcher

I am a doctoral researcher within the Active Numeracy research group working in the Future Problem-Solvers!-project. In my doctoral dissertation, I am studying individual differences in mathematical word problem-solving skills and learning among elementary school-aged children. Due to my background in special education, in the field of research I am especially interested in developing intervention and evaluation methods to assist students with and at risk for mathematical learning difficulties. Currently, my research employs the methods of systematic reviews and meta-analysis.

Natalia Stalchenko, Doctoral Researcher

I am a Master of Educational Sciences and an early childhood education teacher. My main interest is in promoting quality early childhood education and care, such as through identifying factors affecting different aspects of childhood development. This knowledge will aid in developing effective educational strategies that facilitate acquisition of versatile skills. My goal is to promote children’s well-being and healthy development.

In the Active Early Numeracy project, I work as a doctoral researcher. In my dissertation, I examine the longitudinal associations of early numeracy, early language, and executive function in Finnish in South African children.

Research Assistants
Theo Mbay, Research Assistant

I am a master’s degree student in exercise physiology. In Active Early Numeracy –project my responsibilities are in data collection and analysis.

Due to my background, I’m primarily interested in the possible mechanisms between physical activity and learning.  By improving the knowledge on the association between physical activity and learning, more children might become involved in physical activity from an early age. The benefits of this would reach beyond academic success by positively impacting the health and overall well-being of children.

Anni Byman, Research Assistant

I have a bachelor’s degree in sport sciences and I am currently studying in the master’s program in exercise physiology. In research, I am particularly interested in the changes in the nervous system caused by learning and exercise, and how physical activity and motor skill training can potentially help learning. In Active Early Numeracy -project, my responsibilities include data collection and analysis. In addition, I am responsible for scheduling the measurements.

Jani Kainulainen, Research Assistant

I am a physiotherapist and a student in the Master’s Degree Programme in Physiotherapy. My academic interests are in understanding the dynamics between physical activity, motor skills, and learning. Identifying and understanding factors that support children’s learning allows us to better support children’s growth. For me, this is a valuable goal of my work. In Active Early Numeracy –project my responsibilities are mainly in data collection and analysis.

Elina Sipinen, Research Assistant

I am master’s degree student in special education. My interests are different factors contributing to learning and development of new ways to offer educational support.  I am currently writing my first article, which will also be my master’s thesis, and eventually will apply to doctoral program.

In Active Early numeracy -project I work as a research assistant, and I will participate in data gathering, designing the  intervention and the test of mathematical problem solving skills. In addition, I will also instruct some of the intervention groups

International partners

Prof D. Geary (University of Missouri, USA) is a leading scientist in the field of mathematical learning difficulties. He has studied mathematics learning in general, but also with a focus on developmental dynamics in mathematical learning difficulties, as well as effective intervention approaches.  

Prof D. Stodden (University of Southern Carolina, USA) will provide his expertise in children’s fundamental motor skills development and practices of intervention in training motor skills.  

Prof K. Lee (The Education University of Hong Kong) and Prof R. Parrila (Macquarie University, Australia) will assist us to design of internationally and culturally relevant ways to measure the cognitive skills related to early numeracy learning.  

Prof C. Hillman (Northeastern University, USA) will provide his expertise in investigating children’s physical and brain activity as related to their cognitive skills. 

Professor M. Huotilainen is Professor of Educational Sciences at the Department of Education, University of Helsinki. Her main area of interest is to apply neuroscientific methods to relevant, learning-related questions. She has studied many types of learning situations including formal learning, hobbies, informal and exposure learning and many types of learners such as school children, adolescents and adults, and developed methods for her studies.