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Learning to count not as easy as 1, 2, 3
Date:6/14/2011

Preschool children seem to grasp the true concept of counting only if they are taught to understand the number value of groups of objects greater than three, research at the University of Chicago shows.

"We think that seeing that there are three objects doesn't have to involve counting. It's only when children go beyond three that counting is necessary to determine how many objects there are," said Elizabeth Gunderson, a UChicago graduate student in psychology.

Gunderson and Susan Levine, the Stella M. Rowley Professor in Psychology, Comparative Human Development and the Committee on Education at the University, study how children develop an understanding of the connection between number words and their actual numerical value. That connection is known as the cardinal principle, which states that the size of a set of objects is determined by the last number reached when counting the set.

Learning to recite number words in order is not the same as understanding the cardinal principle, they point out. Research has shown that children who enter kindergarten with a good understanding of the cardinal principle do better in mathematics.

Gunderson is lead author of a paper, "Some Types of Parent Number Talk Count More than Others: Relations between Parents' Input and Children's Cardinal-Number Knowledge," published in the current issue of the journal Developmental Science. Levine, a leading national expert on the early acquisition of mathematics, is co-author.

Levine's work has shown that exposure to language related to numbers improves mathematics comprehension; the latest paper goes a step further. It shows that children who are exposed to number words from four through 10, in addition to the number words from one through three, acquire an understanding of the cardinal principle before children who have little exposure to these higher number words.

To perform the study, team members made five home visits
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Contact: William Harms
773-702-8356
University of Chicago
Source:Eurekalert

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