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# Two Year Olds and the Quantity 3

Last week’s exploration into determining whether or not Jenna(2.5) could visualize the quantity three sent me searching in my Right Start Level C box, to see if I could find any literature about the subject. Bingo! I rediscovered Math and the Young Child, and fell in love with Dr. Joan Cotter and her work all over again. (The link takes a little while to load btw.)

On page 3 of the Transitions Lessons book, Dr. Cotter writes about Dr. K. Wynn’s paper “Addition and Subtraction by Human Infants” and the experiments she did with babies and teddy bears. She would show a baby a teddy bear and then put the bear behind a sheet. Then she would show the baby another teddy bear and put that bear behind the sheet. When she lifted the sheet, the baby expected to see two teddy bears. If the adult added a third bear behind the sheet and the baby saw three teddy bears instead of the expected two, then the baby looked at the bears longer. By tracking infant eye gaze she found that five month old babies could tell the difference between 1, 2, and 3 bears.

Does that really mean that infants understand the quantity 3? Or does it mean that infants understand 1, 2, and “more”? I’ve played the chocolate chip game several times with Jenna now, and she still can’t consistently name the quantity three even though she is 31 months old. But I hadn’t been measuring her eye contact. Maybe she was looking at the quantity three longer and I hadn’t realized.

So I tried my own version Dr. Wynn’s teddy bear experiment. I recreated it as best as I could by myself using a pizza box and some Calico Critters.

It really did seem to startle Jenna when there was an unexpected number of Critters behind the pizza box! I was witnessing the very foundations of addition and subtraction development in her brain! This experiment would seem to indicate that Jenna can visualize and recognize when something is “more than two”. But when it came to articulation, she still hits a brick wall. If I asked Jenna to name a quantity, she could verbalize one and two, but started wildly guessing when I showed her three Critters.

This lack of ability to name the quantity is not immutable; it is only a matter of time before Jenna will be developmentally ready to start quantifying objects. Once she can name quantities up to five, I’m going to be starting her on Right Start Level A. I have no idea when this will be, but I am really excited about using Dr. Cotter’s methods from day one with Jenna, instead of floundering around with other programs like I did with my son Bruce. (And no, I’m not a paid spokesman for Right Start! I’m just a passionate Constructivist.) 🙂