Young Children's Understanding of Ordinal, Spatial, and Alphabet Labels in a Spatial Search Task

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Alycia Hund

Mentor Department



Preschool children demonstrate rapid gains in conceptual understanding and language comprehension. Understanding temporal and spatial ordering is important in everyday life, such as when completing instructions in order, understanding narrative sequences, and keeping track of locations in space. Recent research findings highlighted 4- and 5-year-old children's emerging ability to understand ordinal labels (e.g., first, second, third) to help them search for stickers hidden in toy train cars (Miller, Marcovitch, Boseovski, & Lewkowicz, 2015). The goal of this project is to replicate this work and to extend it in two important ways: (1) to extend the age range downward to 3 years to more fully understand the developmental trajectory, and (2) to compare the ordinal labels used by Miller et al. (2015) (first, second, third) to spatial labels (front, middle, back) and to a control condition also using a familiar sequence (A, B, C). To date, 112 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children were familiarized with a toy train that included an engine, three identical cars, and a caboose and with the labels used in their experimental condition. Then, the children completed six test trials where they heard the labels for the cars (depending on their condition) and tried to find a sticker hidden in the indicated car after it had been hidden from view. The proportion of correct searches was then calculated. Parents/Guardians were asked to complete a brief demographic survey and a language checklist to provide additional details about child language development. We expect that search performance will differ across conditions and will increase with age, especially for the most difficult spatial condition. We also expect that search performance will be related to parent reports of child language. These findings will provide important details about young children's understanding of ordinal and spatial language.


Fairweather-undergraduate, Heap-graduate, Maydew-undergraduate, Monla-undergraduate, Okamura-undergraduate, Rogers-graduate

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