Measuring Emerging Number Knowledge in Toddlers

Alex M. Silver, Leanne Elliott, Emily J. Braham, Heather J. Bachman, Elizabeth Votruba-Drzal, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Natasha Cabrera, Melissa E. Libertus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent evidence suggests that infants and toddlers may recognize counting as numerically relevant long before they are able to count or understand the cardinal meaning of number words. The Give-N task, which asks children to produce sets of objects in different quantities, is commonly used to test children’s cardinal number knowledge and understanding of exact number words but does not capture children’s preliminary understanding of number words and is difficult to administer remotely. Here, we asked whether toddlers correctly map number words to the referred quantities in a two-alternative forced choice Point-to-X task (e.g., “Which has three?”). Two- to three-year-old toddlers (N = 100) completed a Give-N task and a Point-to-X task through in-person testing or online via videoconferencing software. Across number-word trials in Point-to-X, toddlers pointed to the correct image more often than predicted by chance, indicating that they had some understanding of the prompted number word that allowed them to rule out incorrect responses, despite limited understanding of exact cardinal values. No differences in Point-to-X performance were seen for children tested in-person versus remotely. Children with better understanding of exact number words as indicated on the Give-N task also answered more trials correctly in Point-to-X. Critically, in-depth analyses of Point-to-X performance for children who were identified as 1- or 2-knowers on Give-N showed that 1-knowers do not show a preliminary understanding of numbers above their knower-level, whereas 2-knowers do. As researchers move to administering assessments remotely, the Point-to-X task promises to be an easy-to-administer alternative to Give-N for measuring children’s emerging number knowledge and capturing nuances in children’s number-word knowledge that Give-N may miss.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number703598
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
StatePublished - Jul 20 2021


  • cardinal principle
  • math development
  • number knowledge
  • remote data collection
  • toddlers aged 12 to 36 months

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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