Wang, Meltzoff, & Williamson, 2015

We know from past research that young children learn a great deal from observing adults. And it turns out they can learn a complex concept, such as weight, by watching others. In one study, 3- and 4-year-olds watched an adult play with four rubber ducks. The ducks all looked the same, but two were heavier than the others. The children watched as the adult lifted each duck and moved it up and down with his hand as if weighing it. The adult did not verbally explain what she was doing.

Some children saw the adult place the objects in one of two bins. The adult was actually sorting them into heavy and light piles. Other children watched the adult lift each object, but not sort them.

Next, the adult gave children the opportunity to play with a new set of identical, weighted toys. Three-year-olds showed no evidence of learning from the sorting demonstration. They did not understand that the adult sorted the objects by weight. But 4-year-olds figured it out. When the 4-year-olds watched an adult lift and ‘weigh’ the object, they were more likely to try it themselves. And in doing so, they learned about the object’s invisible property – weight.

Children can learn about fundamental properties of objects by observing an adult’s actions. To help children learn even more, describe your process to them. This will help them learn math concepts.

  • Cardinality
    is the concept that, when counting objects, the last number represents the total number of objects in the set
    includes size, length, height, weight, volume, distance, and time
    Number and operations
    refers to a set of math concepts related to understanding and representing numbers and operations (e.g., addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and the relationships between them
    is the ability to understand and reason with numbers
    One-to-one correspondence
    refers to matching one object to each number word when counting
    refers to the ability to identify the number of objects in a small group of objects without counting them
    is offering the right level of support to help a child achieve more than they would be able to on their own