Numerous studies from developmental psychology have suggested that human symbolic representation of numbers is built upon the evolutionally old capacity for representing quantities that is shared with other species. Substantial research from mathematics education also supports the idea that mathematical concepts are best learned through their corresponding physical representations. We argue for an independent pathway to learning “big” multi-digit symbolic numbers that focuses on the symbol system itself. Across five experiments using both between- and within-subject designs, we asked preschoolers to identify written multi-digit numbers with their spoken names in a two-alternative-choice-test or to indicate the larger quantity between two written numbers. Results showed that preschoolers could reliably map spoken number names to written forms and compare the magnitudes of two written multi-digit numbers. Importantly, these abilities were not related to their non-symbolic representation of quantities. These findings have important implications for numerical cognition, symbolic development, teaching, and education.