when do children recognize numbers? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 05:42 PM - Thread Starter
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at what age do children typically recognize numbers? So, for example, if I hold up 4 fingers, when will they recognize that it is 4? Or, when they see a number written on paper, when do they recognize that number by name?

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#2 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 05:46 PM
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No idea hun. My son could recognise a number by its 'name' ...as in look at 12345 and say thats 'one two three four five' - around 17 monthsish. At around 21 months he could start to count...as in recognise a numbers wholeness...see 2 apples and say 'two apples'.
That sounds like hes really clever...but hes always been facinated by numbers and surrounded by them. I think he gets his 'mathematical' brain from his father. Same with letters...but now hes 27 months and whilst you can have a conversation with most children his age...you can really get much out of him...Basically hes an individual!...He progresses in areas his friends dont and the other way around!
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#3 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 05:54 PM
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Short answer: When they are ready.

Long answer: Usually in the third year (2 years old).

As a number person (math degree) myself, I have always been more interested in number comprehension than recognition.

When DD1 could simply look at 3 objects and say there were 3 without counting them, I knew she had internalized what 3 was. At 3.5 yo, I believe she has trully internalized up to about 6. She is now very interested in 0, and she can count to 20 (sometimes getting mixed up around 15-16).

That said, she's been able to count fingers/objects up to 10 easily since about her third birthday.

DD2, on the other hand, was already embracing number recognition around 18 months. It freaked me out at the doctor's office when she pointed to the large 8 on the door and said "dat's a number" instead of "dat's a letter" like we were used to. However, I do not believe she has internalized beyond 2. She also talks clearly, but only recognizes 4-5 letters. She seems more verbal than visual in this way.
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#4 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 06:44 PM
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IMO, when you teach them to, not always a popular idea around here it seems but that's what I think.
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#5 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 06:49 PM
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Originally Posted by dimibella View Post
IMO, when you teach them to, not always a popular idea around here it seems but that's what I think.
I agree. When you teach them, anytime between 18 mos. and 4.
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#6 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 07:13 PM
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I agree that it varies based on many things.

Our toddler was able to recognize and point to certain numbers when asked around 12 months (some letters even earlier). By around 15 months she was able to pick out any given number from 0-10. Now at 20 months, we've started teaching her the signs for numbers (it varies slightly from traditional holding-up-fingers, but not much) and she's been using them some. She'll point to the number 5 and then hold up her hand doing the sign for "five." That sort of thing.

But she's still not showing a lot of signs of being able to count objects and associating quantity with a number. 'Course we haven't really worked on it a lot, but we're in no rush.

We have worked on the numeral recognition though, as part of playtime and reading -- same with letters (and shapes and colors, etc.). It's something we all enjoy, and as long as learning is fun, we're all for it. We make a game out of it and she loves it.

Puzzles have been a big help with her ability to recognize letters and numbers. Moreso than books even, I think (since the letters and numbers aren't typically contained in one page, but are spread out). Also we have a foam playmat on the front porch that has the letters and numbers in it. That helped too. Using ASL with her has been fabulous, since she's not very verbal yet.

But I think as with anything, it depends a lot on the child and the level of interest in whatever it is you're teaching him/her. Guinevere loves learning about some things but has zero interest in others. So it really depends on a lot, but it never hurts to expose them to learning, as long as it remains a fun experience for everyone, I think.

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#7 of 17 Old 12-12-2007, 11:37 PM
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I would imagine when you teach them. That said about a month or two ago my DD started to figure out the concept of "two", ie if she is holding two of something, she will tell us over and over again, two, two, as in she has two of whatever. If there is more than two then it is just "more".

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#8 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 04:12 PM
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Ahhh... my thesis area. I'm dredging this up from memory and I hope it's accurate.

The two examples that you describe may actually be quite different.

Recognizing the numeral 4 as a 4 could actually happen any time in the second year, depending on when you've started calling attention to them. It's a shape with a name, nothing more.

Four fingers is different. Around two, some kids are able to parse small groups of objects (rather than count) and be able to name the number that goes with them. For a young child, three is usually the highest they can achieve by parsing, but for older kids it could be four or five. And of course there's huge variability in kids based on their interests and what they've been shown.

One-to-one counting starts to be normal for small sets sometime in the third or fourth year.

But here's the cool thing. It's been shown in some seminal studies on infant congnition, that infants and babies can not only count small sets, but they can add and subtract small quantities. I've seen it - it's fascinating.


Preschoolers can even perform math operations like 1+2-2 and let you know the answer, either with words, or by showing you the correct number of items. In fact, preschoolers and kindergartners perform better (faster and more accurately) on those types of questions than later-grade kids and some adults, believe it or not. Why? Because they haven't been taught in school yet "how" to solve the question!

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#9 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 04:20 PM
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ds is 28 months and recognizes some. I can't remember when dd started to do it. Probably the same or earlier, its where her talents lie.

Mom of a 7 yr old, 4 yr old, and 1 yr old. Wow. How did that happen?
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#10 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 04:29 PM
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I agree with a lot of the pp's - when you, or someone else, teaches them. I think DS learned the shape of numbers on an online site. But the counting thing, he started saying "Me have 1-2-3-4-5" which meant give him all of whatever you had, around age 3. Two months later and he counts individual objects, but only up until 5. I am not sure if he "discovered" it himself, or more probably, they do counting in nursery school.
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#11 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 04:42 PM
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DD recognized printed numbers up to 10 (though she gets 6 and 9 confused). She has some of those foam bath numbers that I let her start playing with around a year and I think she picked up numbers from those, to begin with.

She can say her numbers up to about 12. I use "counting to 10" as our way of transitioning into or ending activities such as washing her hair, which she doesn't much like so she does hear people counting to 10 a lot. Actually a couple weeks ago she realized there were numbers greater than 10 and now she insists that I count to 20.

She understood the concept of "two" at 17 months, as in she would see a pair of something and say "Two!" She can now identify quantities of up 3 or 4 reliably, and sometimes 5. Her understanding of the concept of 2 was a complete and total surprise to us when it happened. She didn't learn to walk until 20 months and is still behind in motor skills, so I've always said that I guess she just needed something else to do while she was biding her time.

Erin, mom to DD (1/06) and DS (10/09)
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#12 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 04:48 PM
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Ds is 32 months and in the last 2-3mon has started saying numbers in groups of 3 -- "1,2,3" or "8,9,10" etc. He learned off of dd. He also seems to be able to count objects. I have yet to see number recognition in terms of holding up say 3 fingers and him understanding that is 3. Dd just started learning that in the last few months (and she's 4.)
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#13 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 05:01 PM
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Ds could count objects as in see four things and say it's 4 things by 2 and he recognized numbers around 17-18 months...as well as rote counting.

In love with Dh since 1998. We created Ds (7.1.03), Dd (10.16.06) and Dd (3.16.09).
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#14 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 06:02 PM
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DS could recognize numerals up to 10 a little before he turned 2, and could count objects up to five a little after that. Now, at 28 months, he can count objects up to 10.

Kimberly: blogging wife to Todd and work-at-home-struggling-with-work/life-balance adoptive mama to Adam (2005) and Leah (2008)
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#15 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 06:41 PM
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I think (not sure) that you may be getting a slightly biased response here from people whose kids knew them early. In my experience, the kids I know (middle and upper-middle class) recognize numerals in the late 2s and 3s and can count up to 5-10 objects around 4. Most did not know letters or numbers at all (or just a few) before two.

I have found this PBS Kids child development tracker helpful for questions like this:


grateful mother to DD, 1/04, and DS, 2/08

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#16 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 06:51 PM
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We have those foam numbers too, so she knows what most of the "basic" numbers look like. Counting, though ... She knows "one" (as in, pick one toy to take with), but we're still working on two and three.

2 happy kids makes for a happy mother.

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#17 of 17 Old 12-13-2007, 07:05 PM
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If my 17 month old son has any concept of numbers or letters he hasn't let me know it yet

Erin sharing life with a burly husband and two rad boys 7/06 & 5/09 : : Zone 9-ish
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