Researchers have found a link between parents’ naming (or “labelling”) the number of small sets of objects with their three-year olds and the children’s cognitive development in math.
Early math skills go through six stages:
Rote counting: being able recite numbers in the right order. (This happens around two years.)
Identifying written numbers (two to three years).One-to-one counting: the ability to count a series of objects from one to ten (two to three years).
Attaching number word “labels” to small sets of objects: the ability to understand quantity, for example, to see three apples and be able to say “there are three apples here” (three years).
The cardinal principle: the idea that the last number reached when counting any set of objects represents the quantity of the whole set (3.5 years and beyond).
Researchers consider the sixth step, the cardinal principle, to be the “big idea” in the development of early numerical skills. It is the fundamental basis of future math learning.
Research has shown that early parental support with the first five stages improves the child’s grasp of the sixth stage, the cardinal principle. The theory is that, as the child grows in understanding, the parent is constantly tapping into the area just beyond the child’s grasp without some help. This is known as the “zone of proximal development”. Through this relationship with the caregiver, the child’s cognitive development progresses.