Why math matters for early learning

Over the years, when Zeno Mathematicians-in-Residence have the opportunity to work in kindergarten classrooms, we have noticed that Kindergartners arrive to school in different types of “math shape”. For example, when playing games with dice, some kids readily recognize the number of dots without counting and others still need to count the dots to figure out how many. There are others who try to count but miscount the dots. It has become obvious that some kids have math opportunities at home while others have not had those same experiences. Hence, at the doorstep of kindergarten, the opportunity gap is already making its presence known and creating obstacles for students’ future math literacy.

Research shows that preschool math skills have been shown to be “more predictive of general scholastic achievement than language, attention span, or social skills” (Duncan et al 2007).

Parents and caregivers are the first teachers in kids’ lives and introducing simple math language and experiences is a very powerful way to help them be kindergarten ready. One of the most important activities you can do with your preschoolers is counting with meaning.

Count! Count! Count!

And by counting I mean attaching number to objects. Or if you want to get even more mathematical: providing practice in one to one correspondence.

Attach number wherever possible, and touch the items you are counting. Just learning the sequence of numbers is not enough. Actually count things. You can start small with sets of five or less:

MathFest early learning

“Go get your 2 shoes. Let’s put them on: one shoe, two shoe.”

“Let’s button up your five buttons [counting as you button] – one button, two buttons, three buttons…”

Count the stairs as you go up and down them.

Count Cheerios as you eat them.

Remember it is important to count as you touch the objects and not to count an object more than once.

Work this into your day. Don’t worry if your preschooler makes mistakes and doesn’t have a grasp of one to one correspondence yet. Just keep modeling. It’s the exposure that is important, not the instant mastery. Also follow their lead, if they are done counting or watching you count, let them move on. You can always model counting something else later in the day. Small repeated windows of exposure are great!

Count! Count! Count!

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