November 25, 2009

So You Think Your Kid Can Count

So the other day, I'm listening to the episode of WNYC's manneristic funhouse show Radiolab about numbers, where mad-rad new dad Jad Abumrad is talking to some developmental neuroscientist or whatever about how even babies' brains have an innate sense of logarithmic numbers, but that kids are literally incapable of counting, i.e., processing serial numbers any greater than 1 or 2, until those synapses form when they're like two-and-a-half or whenever.

And the expert's all, "Try to get a kid to count three blocks. Or four. They can't." And I'm all, "DUDE with the precious theory! You are so wrong! K2 has been wandering around the house for weeks now, counting up a storm. 4,5,6,10,8,9,10...She counts for days, and she's not even two!" I literally talked to my iPod at this point.

So I tried it, and damned if the radio scientist wasn't right the whole time! K2 can chant numbers, she can say 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, but she literally could not count 1-2-3 things. It was all, 1-2-2, 1-2-3-4-6, 1-2-4-5-6-7-10. She could not do it.

Try it at home, perhaps to take the piss out of competitive, so-advanced-for-his-age cousins at Thanksgiving!

Radiolab Episodes | Numbers []


I've started teaching french to the kids at my sons school, and have noticed the same effect.. they can sing the numbers while pointing at them and sing the alphabet .. while pointing at the letters. It will not mean they can tell me what one is in English or what two is.. etc. It's the same effect for them being able to use words in context vs. defining them.

It's like teaching them colors, you have to go through the process: This is Yellow, Can you pick yellow out of this lineup, what is this color.

They are good imitators, that's for sure. Cognitive skills come later in life.


I'd love to take the piss out of my stupid cousins and nephews! I love how there are certain things in life that are just outright certainties about intelligence and learning.

best go listen to the actual radio show first. Nothing worse than starting a Thanksgiving dinner argument with, "I read on some blog that some guy on the radio said..."

Seriation versus one-to-one correspondence.

(Does not follow that it start happening due to synapse maturation, though. )

I may have made the synapse part up.

Hey, that's my favorite conversation starter!

Interesting - unforunately I now realise I didn't have the times my daughter moved from being able to recite numbers to actually being able to reliably count on her fingers, but, yeah, the former definitely happened well before the latter.

Also, per Chris' observation, she got reciting numbers in French at a time when she could count in English, although she's started countring properly in French recently.

It's all so clear now. One-two-many. At 2 years 10 months, you can tell Xavier's just moving on to 3-4-5. He seems to be getting left-right at the same time. Coincidence? I think not.

That was a great Radiolab - wait, they're all great. I liked the part about how integers are unnatural anyway. I can get behind that.

I'd try it with my 2 year old, but the boy still isn't talking.

He's signing up a storm, though...

My 5 year old daughter still apparently cannot count. At least, if it is "how many bites of dinner have you taken?". Her 3 bites always winds up being 9 or 10 when SHE counts 'em...

I'm a few years late to comment, but I love this article anyway.

How true it is - kiddos count but it's really just a poem. Takes a pretty long time for them to get that one-to-one correspondence thing with the words.

Sometimes I don't even have it!

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