This is the first extract from our new title Teaching & Learning Early Years Mathematics: Pedagogic and Subject Knowledge by Mary Briggs. It is taken from chapter 2: To Infinity and Beyond.
Starting to count
Children start to make sense of quantity very early. Researchers focusing on the brain, such as Brian Butterworth (1999), believe that babies are born with a kind of start-up kit for learning about numbers that is coded in the genome. Even in the first week of life, babies are sensitive to changes in the number of things that they are looking at, and at six months they can do very simple addition and subtraction. Psychologists such as Karen Wynn ( 1992 ) have investigated pre-verbal children and their ability to understand different quantities. Whether the children are actually counting is diffi cult to say, but they are paying attention to situations that are novel or unexpected. Wynn showed a baby a doll, covered the doll with a screen, and showed a second doll being placed behind the screen. The baby would then expect to see two dolls when the screen is removed. If there turns out to be a different number of dolls – either more or fewer – then the baby would look longer than if there were exactly two dolls. This is called the ‘violation of expectation’ experiment. Researchers studying infants’ number-discrimination abilities have taken advantage of the fact that infants tend to be more interested when something they see is different from what they have seen before. If they are shown the same picture over and over again, they will look at it less and less. This decline in the amount of looking is called ‘habituation ’. If the infants are then shown something novel or different, renewed looking, or ‘dishabituation ’, occurs (Frantz, 1964 ).
» What do you think the babies are doing in Wynn’s experiment? Are they counting?
There is evidence that children are reacting to a situation that they are not expecting, although the research doesn’t actually show that the children are counting .