Child's counting comprehension may depend on objects counted, study shows

April 18, 2013

such as toys, tiles and blocks—that students can touch and move around, called manipulatives, have been used to teach basic math skills since the 1980s. Use of manipulatives is based on the long-held belief that young children's thinking is strictly concrete in nature, so concrete objects are assumed to help them learn math concepts.

However, new research from the University of Notre Dame suggests that not all manipulatives are equal. The types of manipulatives may make a difference in how effectively a child learns basic counting and other basic math concepts. The study will be published in the May edition of Child Development.

University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Psychology Nicole McNeil, who researches how children think, learn and solve problems in mathematics, together with Notre Dame graduate student Lori Petersen found that use of certain objects have mixed results with preschoolers, particularly if those objects are rich in perceptual detail (bright and shiny).

Objects that are brightly colored, unusually textured or highly dimensional may capture children's attention and help children stay focused on the given task. However, the researchers found that when children already were familiar with the objects, then these perceptually detailed objects actually hindered performance on counting tasks because they require dual representation—they must be represented both as objects themselves and as the abstract they are intended to represent. When children already have established knowledge of the objects, this increased attention often is directed to the objects and their known purpose rather than to the mathematical task at hand. Conversely, when children didn't have established knowledge of the objects, perceptual richness helped performance.

"These findings suggest that it is easier for children to use objects in mathematical tasks when those objects have maximum 'bling' and minimum recognizability," McNeil said.

"More generally, these findings suggest that teachers may benefit from taking 's previous knowledge into account when deciding which materials to bring into their classrooms."

Explore further: Learning and remembering linked to holding material in hands, new research shows

Related Stories

Learning and remembering linked to holding material in hands, new research shows

September 23, 2011
New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that people’s ability to learn and remember information depends on what they do with their hands while they are learning.

Learning to count not as easy as 1, 2, 3: Working with larger numbers matters

June 14, 2011
Preschool children seem to grasp the true concept of counting only if they are taught to understand the number value of groups of objects greater than three, research at the University of Chicago shows.

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tom_Hennessy
5 / 5 (1) Apr 18, 2013
Montessori found non colored blocks work better with children with learning difficulties long before now.
gwrede
not rated yet Apr 18, 2013
The authors seem to assume all kids are of the same IQ, are in the same place on the scale that goes from Autism spectrum to average to Opposite of AS, and are all of the same age and gender.

One would think such obvious things as blingy vs boring objects as counting items would influence all these groups very differently.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.