For Teachers

Important Math Skills in Early Childhood

By Alisa Bates, PhD October 16, 2012

Math skills taught in early childhood education are designed to provide the foundation children need to succeed in elementary school and beyond. Educators should focus lessons in early childhood around the basic skills that build up to advanced mathematics in high school and college. From preschool to the end of elementary school, children are setting the foundation for future life skills.

Basic math skills for preschoolers

Early childhood education should introduce simple mathematical concepts. By introducing children to basic terminology early in childhood, teachers are making the elementary education a little easier, and introducing math concepts should start when children are around three years old.

By setting the foundation to understand terminology and concepts early, children are prepared to apply the information in a classroom setting. The concepts are already understood, so elementary teachers are able to focus on the application of ideas.

While preschool children might not yet be ready to learn the practice of the math skills, they can gain a basic idea of the practice through language and practice.

Number sense

Number sense, or the basics of learning about numbers, is the first vital math skill a child must develop before reaching kindergarten. Children must learn to count forwards and backwards early in childhood to learn the relationship between numbers in the future. Number sense is a vital skill that early childhood educators should focus on teaching before children reach kindergarten.

While kindergarten classes review the basics of counting forward and backward, early childhood educators can set a stronger foundation by focusing on learning to count before reaching elementary school. By focusing on number sense, teachers are providing math skills that are necessary for future concepts and advanced calculations.

Learning numbers through representation or pictures

Children are naturally visual and can build relationships between numbers and a represented item. According to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, using representation or pictures to clarify a relationship is making the use of mathematics real to a child’s mind.

Early childhood education should focus on representing numbers with items, pictures or even family members. For example, learning the basics of counting can use pictures of apples or favorite fruits to help children recognize that the number represents the items depicted.

Teaching through representation or pictures will allow children to make connections between the real world and the math skills that are vital for academic success. Without making a connection between life and math, children can become confused about the information provided in a classroom.

While early childhood education should introduce the concepts before the skills, teachers can begin the basics of adding and subtracting before children move into elementary school. The basic skills are used in normal childhood interactions, such as sharing cookies by subtracting from the original number to ensure the children have the same number of treats.

By focusing on the basics of adding and subtracting, teachers can provide a stronger foundation in math skills for the future. Depending on the age of children, the basics of adding and subtracting might limit the skills to sharing food items or adding items to play activities that encourage children to count the extra items.

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, teachers can make use of examples that arise during play activities to teach the ideas of adding or subtracting items. It is an opportunity to teach the skills without actively creating lesson plans that are too advanced for childhood literacy and knowledge.

Preschool math provides academic building blocks

The basic math skills teachers provide in early childhood education set the building blocks for the entire academic career. Without learning simple skills like number sense, math concepts and simple application of ideas like adding, children are not prepared to move into elementary education. Fortunately, young children are able to learn at a remarkable rate and teachers can apply concepts or math skills to normal childhood activities.

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