Numbers and Babies

Counting the Stars

Most children love to learn to count and they love to repeat after you “One, Two, Three”.

But is the ability to count something that a baby is born with? Or is it something that is learned?

  •  Research suggests that many animals have a rudimentary number sense.
  • It appears that babies have a basic sense of numbers and before they can say the numbers, they can show their sense of numbers in other ways.
(www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Is it Two or Three? 

  • Four to seven month old babies can distinguish two items from three.
  • The babies looked longer at a photo of three drums when they heard three drumbeats.
  • This suggests that the awareness of number is not visually or auditory based.
  • Separating four from six objects is a bit tricky for young children.

One Plus One

If you show a 5-month old baby a dog that disappears behind a screen, and then another dog disappears behind the screen.

Then you remove the screen and there is one dog behind the screen. Now the baby will look longer than when two dogs are shown behind the screen.

When a baby looks longer, it is taken as a sign that she is surprised.

  • This indicates that a young baby can add one dog plus one dog and get two dogs.
  • The processes used to do these “calculation” are basic and they may be different from what older children use when they arithmetic.
  • But that does not make it less impressive!

Which Box?

You can play and examine your baby’s basic number sense, when he is a bit older.

A ten-month old baby will reach for the box containing the most food.

  • If you put two pieces of fruit in a box and three pieces of fruit in another.
  • Well, the choice is clear; your baby will reach for the box with three pieces.

One, Five, Three

A two-year old may know some number words. They may not say them in order, but even if saying the numbers in order is important in one sense, you want your child to develop a sense of what a number stands for.

Counting Fun 

Make sure that your child does understand that the numbers are not simply a fun long string of words.

  • When you read a counting book, make sure that you take time to look at the objects in the pictures.
  • Point to each object as you count. Spend some time on each page.
  • Try to find other things to count, the number of red spots on a sock, the number of buttons in a shirt, the number of stars in the sky. . .
  • Use counting activities when you pack a bag, tidy up in the room.
  • Count the number of cars on the way to nursery or kindergarten.
  • You can count the number of grapes on the plate and the number of things you bought in the shop.
  • There are also famous counting songs – “Five little monkey jumping on the bed!

Three Basic Ideas

  • A three-year old has often an understanding of that there must only be one object to each number.
  • They know that the numbers should be said in a certain order.
  • They also often say “one, two, three, four, five – five apples”.
  • They understand that the last number is equivalent to how many of the items there are.

Different Countries

Learning to count beyond ten is trickier in some languages than others are.

In English the number, “eleven” and “twelve” are not regular whereas in some languages such as Chinese, Korean, and Japanese the number system is regular.

  • Language differences can explain some age differences in the ability to count.

Photo: Girl With Piggy Bank by Stuart Miles

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