How do different types of information influence children’s understanding of and use of counting?

    • Topic: Cognitive Development

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Children can recite the count list by their second birthday, but it takes the next few years for them to understand what those number words mean and how counting works. This study seeks to understand the natural development of children’s understanding of the purpose of counting: how and when do children begin to use counting effectively?

    Children (ages 2-6) will first be asked to pick out a certain number of toys from a pile (to measure their understanding of number words). Children will then play a computer game in which they briefly see a picture containing a certain number of objects or hear a certain number of sounds and then must choose which of two new pictures has the same number of items as the first picture or sounds had. The choice picture may have the same type of object as the first picture, a different type of object, or objects instead of sounds. Sometimes children will have unlimited time to choose, but other times they will have a limited amount of time (3 seconds) to choose.

    We predict that children will attempt to use counting more often when given unlimited time. We also expect that through our task, children will learn to use counting as a strategy in order to succeed (be more accurate) at the matching game. We are curious when and how accurately children use counting, and whether this is affected by the different types of information presented.

    These results will help us understand how and when children learn to count and their understanding of the purpose of counting.

    This research is conducted at the Museum of Science, Boston by the Infant and Child Cognition Lab at Boston College.

        » Infant and Child Cognition Lab

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Counting Sounds

    Find the Instruments and Shapes Discovery Boxes in the Children’s Gallery. Place the shapes in front of your child, and take an instrument for yourself. Have your child count along with the sounds. See if your child can count out the same number of shapes as the number of sounds you make (e.g., shake the maraca twice, and see if you child can count out two shapes). Counting is an important part of making music!

    Matching Numbers

    Grab some chips from the Height Chart and some blocks from the Light Bright. Count out a certain number of chips (e.g., three), and see if you child can count the same number of blocks. Is it easier for them to place them in a matching line or to count them into a pile?

    Activities to Try at Home

    Snack Counting

    The next time you are having a small countable snack, have your child practice counting different numbers. Prompt them by asking “Can you give me four?” or “How many do I have?” Try clapping your hands instead of asking: “Can I have this many?” (and then clap three times).

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