I am fascinated by watching children learn to count. There are many surprising twists and turns kids take along the way.
Even more surprising, perhaps, is that what seem like crazy mistakes to us adults are completely sensible attempts at getting it right for kids.
- In English, the pattern that occurs in the teens is complicated. “Thirteen” doesn’t sound very much like what it is: three plus ten, while “Fourteen” does.
- Likewise, the names for the “decades”: “Twenty” means two tens and “Thirty” means three tens.
- But once you get to twenty-one, the pattern is regular until twenty-nine.
- We start counting at 1 (not 0), but we don’t start the decades at 21 or 31, so kids following the 1, 2, 3 pattern will often skip 20 and 30.
If you put all of this together, you might expect a typical young child who is counting “as high as I can” to:
- Have trouble in the teens
- Skip 20 in favor of 21
- Have more success in the twenties than in the teens, and
- End the count at or about twenty-nine (since the word thirty is not very predictable from the previous language patterns).