This evening, Tina the three-year-old announced her need of “colors” (crayons). Unwilling to entrust an entire box of crayons to her at once, I gave her first the yellow one, then exchanged the yellow for the orange, and so on through the five or six crayons in the box. Finally I explained to her that she had used every color in the box. “Do you want to use one of them again?”, I asked.
“Uuummmm,” Tina mused, “I want….” She made a fumbling motion with her fingers as though trying to count something. Finally she managed to stick up a thumb: “This one!” For a moment, I was at a loss: thumbs up means what now? But in the end I decided that the thumb corresponded to orange, and I handed her the appropriate item. She was ecstatic.
After a moment, she handed the orange back and fumbled with her fingers again. “I want….” She had to use her left hand to hold down the other fingers of her right hand so her right index finger could stand up alone: “This one!” I decided that the index finger corresponded to purple. “I like purple!” she exclaimed.
Upon returning the purple crayon, she fumbled again. “I want….” Now when she succeeded in getting finger #3 to stand up alone and showed it to me, there followed an awkward moment requiring careful control of the facial muscles, but I decided that finger #3 corresponded to green and we moved on. “I like green!” she said.
And so we went, all the way through finger #5. I can only guess that her finger gestures meant something like first, second, third, fourth, fifth, although no one has ever shown her such a thing. Kind of clever of her to think it up!