The present study asks when young children understand that number words quantify over sets of discrete individuals. For this study, 2- to 4-year-old children were asked to extend the number word five or six either to a cup containing discrete objects (e.g., blocks) or to a cup containing a continuous substance (e.g., water). In Experiment 1, only children who knew the exact meanings of the words one, two and three extended higher number words (five or six) to sets of discrete objects. In Experiment 2, children who only knew the exact meaning of one extended higher number words to discrete objects under the right conditions (i.e., when the problem was first presented with the number words one and two). These results show that children have some understanding that number words pertain to discrete quantification from very early on, but that this knowledge becomes more robust as children learn the exact, cardinal meanings of individual number words.
Emily Slusser, A. Ditta, and B. Sarnecka. "Connecting numbers to discrete quantification: A step in the child’s construction of integer concepts" Cognition (2013): 31-41.