Language and math are important tools that allow humans to better understand the world around them, and communicate with one another. Some cognitive scientists are interested in learning more about how children develop language skills and conceptions about basic math principles, and how the development of math and language skills in early childhood might be interrelated.
Languages allow people to talk about quantities like “three apples” or “three pounds of apples.” Children usually learn their native language quickly, and most two-year-olds are capable of understanding number words such as “one, two, three.” While counting objects in a set, they understand that the last number word spoken indicates the total number of objects in the set. However, what exactly have they learned about the process of counting in determining quantities? This three-part study explores how 3-5 year-olds talk and reason about quantities.
First, in a “set judgment” task, the child is introduced to two characters that each have a set of objects, and is asked, “Who has more?” For example, one set might consist of a single object broken into pieces, while the other might consist of whole objects. In the second task, a “quantity tracking” task, the child observes cups of sand being taken in and out of a box. The child is asked to decide, after all of the trials, whether the box is empty or partially full. In the last task, a “measure words” task, the child helps the researcher select images to be put into a picture book: the child is asked to select images of either whole objects, pieces of objects, or boxes of objects.
This study will help us begin to understand the relationship between language acquisition and the formation of counting principles.
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This research is conducted by the Laboratory for Developmental Studies at Harvard University