Some types of parent number talk count more than others: relations between parents’ input and children’s cardinal-number knowledge


Elizabeth A. Gunderson, Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, 5848 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637, USA; e-mail:


Before they enter preschool, children vary greatly in their numerical and mathematical knowledge, and this knowledge predicts their achievement throughout elementary school (e.g. Duncan et al., 2007; Ginsburg & Russell, 1981). Therefore, it is critical that we look to the home environment for parental inputs that may lead to these early variations. Recent work has shown that the amount of number talk that parents engage in with their children is robustly related to a critical aspect of mathematical development – cardinal-number knowledge (e.g. knowing that the word ‘three’ refers to sets of three entities; Levine, Suriyakham, Rowe, Huttenlocher & Gunderson, 2010). The present study characterizes the different types of number talk that parents produce and investigates which types are most predictive of children’s later cardinal-number knowledge. We find that parents’ number talk involving counting or labeling sets of present, visible objects is related to children’s later cardinal-number knowledge, whereas other types of parent number talk are not. In addition, number talk that refers to large sets of present objects (i.e. sets of size 4 to 10 that fall outside children’s ability to track individual objects) is more robustly predictive of children’s later cardinal-number knowledge than talk about smaller sets. The relation between parents’ number talk about large sets of present objects and children’s cardinal-number knowledge remains significant even when controlling for factors such as parents’ socioeconomic status and other measures of parents’ number and non-number talk.