One day several years ago while interacting with our two little grandchildren who were then 3 or 4 years of age and 4 or 5 years of age, respectively, I presented the younger one with a collection of eight blocks, and asked, “How many blocks are there on the table in front of you?” He seemed to understand what I was asking and dutifully coordinated pointing at each block in turn and saying the number word sequence, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. He then said, “There are eight.” Waiting perhaps a minute, I asked him, “How many blocks did you say are there?” He immediately started over, counted the eight blocks, and then announced again, “There are eight.” I again waited a minute or so and asked him a third time, “How many blocks?” Once again, apparently happy to oblige, he carefully counted the blocks.
Some time later, I asked the same question of our granddaughter who is one year older. Just as her brother had done, she happily counted the cubes and announced as he had, “There are eight.” Waiting perhaps a minute or two I asked her again, “How many blocks are there?” Without hesitation she answered, “There are eight.” I then asked a third time, “How many blocks?” This time with an expression of exasperation she said, “Papa, I already told you there are eight!”
If I had asked our granddaughter this question a year or so earlier, I suspect her response would have been much like her brother’s and she too would have recounted the blocks each time I asked. What was it in her experience and her development that happened over the course of a year that made it possible for her to respond as she now does to my question, “How many blocks?” And on the other hand, what’s up with my grandson, why can’t he remember that just a minute ago he told me there are eight blocks? What can researchers tell us about these different responses? “What’s up with my grandson?” What are the experiences my grandson will have over the next months that will contribute to his being able to respond in the way his sister responded? Will he likely have those experiences whether or not they are intentionally presented to him?
This is one example of many similar transitions that children make along the way to their acquisition of number concepts. The preschool team here at the AIMS Center is posting regularly to this blog and will be sharing many similar transitions to the one I noted with my grandchildren. Perhaps in one of those posts, one of them will come back and answer my question about, “what’s up with my grandson?” I encourage you to keep reading our blog.