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Children’s spontaneous counting is positively associated with performance on tasks measuring number word knowledge (LeCorre et al., 2006; Posid & Cordes, 2018), such as give-N and “what’s on this card” (WOC). However, prior work examining this association has included few children at low knower levels. In our work with a diverse group of preschoolers (N = 312), we noticed many pre-knowers and one-knowers spontaneously attempting to count. Exploratory visual inspection of the plots suggested a curvilinear association between knower level (0-5) and spontaneous counting (yes/no). Formal statistical tests indicated a quadratic relation between children’s knower level and whether they spontaneously attempted to count during the give-N or WOC tasks. However, when considering only correct counts, the association was positive and the U-shaped relation was no longer present. Spontaneous counting may be common at the start of learning, though this appears to be largely driven by incorrect attempts to count. As children develop an understanding of number words their spontaneous use of counting may decrease before ultimately supporting performance on tasks measuring children’s number word knowledge.
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