Effects of Perceptually Rich Manipulatives on Preschoolers' Counting Performance: Established Knowledge Counts


  • This article is based on a masters thesis conducted by Petersen under the direction of McNeil. This research was supported by a Graduate Student Professional Development Grant from the University of Notre Dame. Thanks to Scott Maxwell, Cindy Bergeman, Laura Carlson, Brad Gibson, Percival Matthews, Dana Chesney, April Dunwiddie, Ann Johnson, and Elizabeth Hendriks for their input on earlier drafts of this paper. This research would not have been possible without the support of the administrators, teachers, parents, and students of the Early Childhood Development Center.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lori A. Petersen, Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, 118 Haggar Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Electronic mail may be sent to lpeters4@nd.edu.


Educators often use concrete objects to help children understand mathematics concepts. However, findings on the effectiveness of concrete objects are mixed. The present study examined how two factors—perceptual richness and established knowledge of the objects—combine to influence children's counting performance. In two experiments, preschoolers (= 133; Mage = 3;10) were randomly assigned to counting tasks that used one of four types of objects in a 2 (perceptual richness: high or low) × 2 (established knowledge: high or low) factorial design. Findings suggest that perceptually rich objects facilitate children's performance when children have low knowledge of the objects but hinder performance when children have high knowledge of the objects.