Building Preschool Math Skills
There is no doubt that early math skills for preschoolers are important. Discover why math is essential for young learners and how to develop these skills.
Teaching early mathematics concepts to young children can truly benefit them as life long learners. In the developmental continuum the early childhood years (ages birth through six) are an essential time period for acquiring a foundation for many educational concepts. This article focuses on the importance of early learning in the area of math.
The Importance of Early Childhood Mathematics Foundations
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) stresses the importance of early math education in their September 2007 Position Statement on What is Important in Early Childhood Mathematics? by stating that, “A high-quality, challenging and accessible mathematics education provides early childhood learners with a vital foundation for the future understanding of mathematics”.
This sentiment is seconded by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) in their 2002 position statement on early childhood mathematics. Both NCTM and NAEYC agree that early math education is vital to the development of young children in multiple areas. Through introducing a sustained, research-based math curriculum, preschool teachers can effectively help young children to grow as learners.
How To Use Math In The Preschool Classroom
There are many different ways to introduce basic mathematical concepts to preschoolers. According to both the NCTM and NAEYC, the overarching curricular goals should include:
- Build on the specific experience of the children in the classroom. This includes using words and materials that are familiar to the children in terms of previous knowledge, community, and cultural significance.
- Continue extended and sustained interactions with a math curriculum or math concepts over the course of the school year. Instead of simply adding in a math lesson or unit here and there when it is convenient, try to incorporate math learning into a regularly scheduled time. This does not mean that teachers necessarily need to section out a period or block of the day for a math lesson. One option is to be intentional in adding math to lesson plans throughout the week or month. Preplan and add in math activities where they fit into the larger curriculum or weekly unit.
- Integrate math learning into other classroom areas/curricula. Math for young children should not mean sitting down and doing worksheets. Make math learning a fun, interactive process that crosses other areas of learning such as literacy, art, music, and physical education. Additionally, math can be included in regular play activities such as block building.
- Use new mathematics based vocabulary. Introduce the correct math vocabulary to young children. A preschooler is able to understand and recall a word such as geometric when referring to a shape.
Math Activity Ideas for Preschoolers
There are a large number of pre-planned math activities for young children that are readily available through teacher reference books, websites, or early childhood publications. Look for activities that meet learning standards and are connected to the specific knowledge and interests of the class. These activities should be child-centered, interactive, and include other class content areas.
Examples of math activities for young children that integrate within other curricular areas are:
- Art and Math: Create a simple geometric shape collage. Introduce the shapes and ask the children to cut and glue them to a separate piece of paper. As the children build more skills, encourage them to arrange the shapes to form specific objects such as a car or animal. This will not only help to build shape recognition skills but will also introduce the part to the whole relationship.
- Science and Math: Build beginning skills in measurement and conservation. These tasks may be tricky for a very young child, but remember to challenge the class to grow and develop. Experiment with measuring brightly colored liquids (water and food coloring).
- Music and Math: Music is a wonderful way to integrate math into the classroom. Count the beats in a song or use a toy drum for a mathematical musical exercise.
- Nature and Math: Create a growing graph during the summer season. Look at flowers or plants and chart the size differences as the growing season progresses.
Building early math skills is a crucial part of learning and development. Help prepare the young child for later academic endeavors by providing a consistent and interactive math curriculum during preschool. Try a pre-made activity plan or create a uniquely individual math lesson for the classroom.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children, Position Statement on Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings 
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Position Statement on What Is Important in Early Childhood Mathematics? [September, 2007]