Toddlernomics: Introducing our Token Economy

So first, thank you to Freakonomics for allowing us to start using “-nomics” as a suffix.

I want to tell you the story of our token economy. So a few months ago, cogsci-hubby and I decided we would allow cogsci-toddler to watch about 30 minutes of television (aka amazon prime) or 3 youtube videos a day. To help him keep track of how many videos he saw, I introduced tokens, green mahjong chips. I initially introduced these tokens just so that he would know how many videos he could watch in a concrete sort of way. But it’s been this wonderful opportunity to help him learn all sorts of things! Like subtraction! Like the value of 0! Like the function of counting!

So here’s Amos telling you about “5-3=2.”
(Just a note, Amos started off with 5 green tokens in this video. Also, Daniel Tiger is a PBS/inspired by Mr. Rogers show that is very popular with the toddler set. It’s 30 minutes long hence the 3 token charge.)

And here’s Amos also telling you about “2-1=1.”
(Amos loves food videos on New York Times… that’s why he wants to watch an NYTimes video… he’s not into politics or anything like that, haha.)

And finally, here is Amos demonstrating to you his knowledge of cardinality, that the purpose of counting/numbers is to know how many in a set (you can refresh your memory of the other principles of counting here), AND 0! We present to you, “1-1=0.” (This surprised me, I didn’t expect him to know this. Who taught him 0?)

So some of you might say, hey! that’s not REALLY subtraction! he’s just looking down at his tokens to see how many he has left! True. But how do you think we begin to understand subtraction in the first place?

In George Lakoff & Rafael Nunez’s seminal book Where Mathematics Comes From: How The Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being they argue precisely that these abstract ideas (like subtraction) stem from early experiences with concrete objects and interactions with the physical world. One theoretical perspective (haha, brought to you by me and my friends!) argues that abstract thinking is often supported (at least initially) by mentally simulating or re-imagining these physical experiences.

Regardless of whether this is “true” subtraction or not, it is an established token economy subject to real market forces! Let’s see if Amos will act like rationally and selfishly like homo economicus! I can report to you about the ups and downs of our economy! Stay tuned for more about saving (or the lack there of), delay of gratification (or the lack there of), larceny (unfortunately the presence of), demand-supply, base-5, division, and MORE! WOOHOO!

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2 thoughts on “Toddlernomics: Introducing our Token Economy

  1. Dan says:

    Like so much! Tiger mom’s got nothing on you!

  2. treevalley says:

    you, mama, make math fun and fascinating. that is a rare feat.

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