Welcome (back) to the AIMS Center for Math and Science Education blog! The four early math research associates started the 2016-17 academic year by interviewing more than 70 children in ten Head Start programs to begin year 2 of our study. The number will be narrowed to 24 as we observe and document the children’s responses throughout the year. We are continuing our study grounded in Dr. Karen Fuson’s work on the Children’s Acquisition of the Number Word Sequence.
Wait, what was that study? The number word sequence is what parents, grandparents and early learning staff observe when they ask their child to count. It is the developmental progression that Dr. Fuson refers to in four stages.
- The first stage is called Spew: The child knows that he/she needs to respond with numbers or utterances, thus a spew of numbers, letters, and other non-number words are stated. This would sound something like, “1, 2, 8, red, F, 12, blue.”
- The 2nd stage is a String: The child recites a string but does not associate it with a unit value such as, ”onetwothreefourfive” which is similar to “lmnop” as a single word. It is a repeated reciting of words with no 1-to-1 correspondence to items.
- The 3rd stage is the Unbreakable Chain: The child counts items with 1-to-1 correspondence and the child always begins the count from one again, rather than counting on. The unbreakable chain is evidenced by always having to count from 1.
- The 4th stage in the acquisition of the number word sequence is the Breakable Chain. This is when a child is able to recall the last number cited and can then add on to count additional items. For instance, a child initially counts 4 items, 2 more items are added and he is able to state, “4, 5, 6.” The child is also able to count up from a certain number to another number, ie. counts from 5 to 13. In addition, this process is bidirectional so the child is able to count down from 7 to 4.
I was recently a guest on the AIMS Center’s ZPC Podcast explaining these stages. Take a listen!
What is important to note is that early learning occurs naturally through conversation and providing opportunities to promote learning through the child’s interest. The child’s world is filled with math concepts from larger and smaller items, number of items needed as a parent shops at the grocery store, number of items on a neighborhood walk, and the identification of shapes. Serve and return conversations with children build the child’s vocabulary and connect additional brain synapses. Children are naturally curious and love the opportunity to learn through intentional play. Gone are the days of memorizing or educators drilling rote memory. A child will learn by having fun and counting items, playing board games, and taking neighborhood walks and identifying shapes and number of items. Early math can and will change the trajectory of children’s academics and learning begins years before the age of 5.
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