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Knowing Numbers and Letters at Age 2

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Q: My daughter just turned 2 last month. I have been trying to find out at what age children should know their ABC's, and how high a child her age can usually count. Could you please help me?

A: At this age, no child can truly understand what counting means. If you read daily with your daughter, if you sing nursery rhymes, if you count teddy bears all in a row and the number of green peas on her high-chair table, she will naturally and gradually pick up the idea of counting. Many toddlers can count by rote. They learn the ABC song by rote also. But until later in the preschool years, true understanding of numbers is not possible. Indeed, many a preschooler who can count up to ten items will miscount if the items are closely bunched together or widely spread out. Little folks get some idea of what "counting" really means only with long experience counting pebbles, toy cars, buttons on a jacket, etc., and through innumerable pleasurable intimate experiences.

Enjoy your little one and do not mistake rote singsong counts from 1 to 10 for understanding the equivalences that numbering represents. This understanding will come in good time. Through rich, personal experiences with you in the world of the nursery and the playground, your child will begin to grasp the deep idea of what counting is all about.

About the Author

Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University. She is the author of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant-Toddler Attachments in Early Care Settings.

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