The Real Preschoolers of Orange County: Early Number Learning in a Diverse Group of Children


  • Barbara W. Sarnecka Orcid
  • James Negen Orcid
  • Nicole R. Scalise Orcid
  • Meghan C. Goldman
  • Jeffrey N. Rouder Orcid


The authors assessed a battery of number skills in a sample of over 500 preschoolers, including both monolingual and bilingual/multilingual learners from households at a range of socio-economic levels. Receptive vocabulary was measured in English for all children, and also in Spanish for those who spoke it. The first goal of the study was to describe entailment relations among numeracy skills by analyzing patterns of co-occurrence. Findings indicated that transitive and intransitive counting skills are jointly present when children show understanding of cardinality and that cardinality and knowledge of written number symbols are jointly present when children successfully use number lines. The study’s second goal was to describe relations between symbolic numeracy and language context (i.e., monolingual vs. bilingual contexts), separating these from well-documented socio-economic influences such as household income and parental education: Language context had only a modest effect on numeracy, with no differences detectable on most tasks. However, a difference did appear on the scaffolded number-line task, where bilingual learners performed slightly better than monolinguals. The third goal of the study was to find out whether symbolic number knowledge for one subset of children (Spanish/English bilingual learners from low-income households) differed when tested in their home language (Spanish) vs. their language of preschool instruction (English): Findings indicated that children performed as well or better in English than in Spanish for all measures, even when their receptive vocabulary scores in Spanish were higher than in English.