Children’s sense of numbers starts to develop at a very young age.
Before children even learn to count, they begin to develop an understanding of quantity. They perceive that a group of two objects is different than a group of three objects. They start to notice when a change is made to a small number of objects. These early observations are the initial stages of a child’s understanding of quantity and numbers.
As children’s language develops they begin to express an understanding of quantity. They ask for more of something they want. They ask for the same amount of a favorite treat as a sibling or friend. Soon they begin to recite number names aloud.
They may skip numbers or say numbers out of sequence as they begin to learn the number names. You may see toddlers begin to count small numbers of items, pointing to an object and associating it with a number. With these initial counting efforts children commonly use more number names than correspond to the actual number of objects.
For example a child might say “one, two, three, four, five” when counting a group of three objects. They may also use the same number repetitively to describe several objects. For example a child might say, “one, two, three, three,” when counting a group of four objects.
As children become more comfortable with the concepts of quantity and numbers they start to develop an understanding of cardinality – the idea that the last number said when counting a group of objects refers to the total number of objects in the group.