Teaching Preschool Math- Learn All About It!

Teaching preschool math is important to plan for.  

Math is an integral part of our everyday lives and the best time to start teaching those concepts is as early as possible.

Preschool-aged children learn math concepts through hands-on activities.

However, many preschool teachers focus primarily on the "basics" such as number recognition, number memorization, number formation and activities to teach the children how to count.  

Preschool math is more about children exploring than about your teaching.  

Before they even begin counting preschoolers already have a basic understanding of one-to-one correspondence.

They have a basic understanding of matching and, many times have a basic understanding of labeling items with numbers, spatial relationships and more! 

Teaching preschool math is not something you "do to" children!  

There are several points to keep in mind when teaching preschool math:  

  • Each child learns and develops at their own pace.
  • Some students will catch on to a skill quickly, while others need repeated practice. 
  • Preschoolers need to be actively engaged in the learning process, not idling watching someone else demonstrate.  
  • Preschoolers should have opportunities to work alone, with partners, and in groups to maximize learning.

As the teacher, you should always focus on the learning process, not just the result (i.e. focus on providing activities that encourage the children to be involved in counting rather than focusing on them demonstrating their ability to rote count to 10).

Repetition is important when teaching preschool math.

Learners who are exposed to concepts over and over have a more concrete understanding because they've had time to dig deeper into the skill.

Your role is to understand the preschool math process skills preschoolers develop, observe which skills each of your children have and then provide materials and activities to support the children where they are at!

Preschoolers need to build their knowledge like a pyramid.

For example, a child needs to have a solid understanding of rational counting (pointing to one object at a time while saying each number) before moving on to one-to-one correspondence (placing 3 spoons next to 3 plates). 

Teaching Preschool Math Based On What Children Know

Did you know there are there are 17 common math process skills or concepts to consider when teaching preschool math?

Many of them are considered higher-level skills.  This means you may not see them in preschoolers as they are not truly understood until around the age of seven.

There are 3 common math process skills that you will see demonstrated by your children as they interact with each other and with their environment.  

They are: Observation, Language and Problem Solving

These 17 process skills fall under 5 math areas.  Here they are:  

Math Area 1: Numbers and Operations

This area includes Number Sense; Counting; One-to-One Correspondence; Numbers and Symbols

Math Area 2: Geometry and Spatial Sense

This area includes Shapes and Spatial Sense Activities

Math Area 3: Measurement

This area includes all areas of Measurement: weight, length, height, volume, temperature and time.

Math Area 4: Pattern/Algebraic Thinking

This area includes Patterns; Parts and Wholes.

Math Area 5: Displaying and Analyzing Data

This area includes Sets and Classifying; Order Seriation; Comparing; Graphing; Groups and Symbols.

Let's break each of these skills down, shall we?

My FAVORITE
Preschool Math Activities
and How to Make Them!  
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Click Here For Your Packet!
  • Observation refers to gathering and organizing information.
  • Language with regard to preschool math refers to using "math" language (i.e. using the word Pattern, light, heavy, more than, etc.)
  • Problem Solving refers to gathering information and coming to a single solution OR gathering many pieces of information and considering a variety of possible solutions to a problem.
  • Numbers Sense is the concept of understanding numbers. 
  • Counting:  There are 2 types of counting: Rote and Rational
         
    Rote Counting is stating numbers in order from memory
         
    Rational Counting is counting items in a group and then understanding that the last number stated IS        the amount for the set.  
  • One-to-One Correspondence is the understanding that one group of items has the same number of items as another.  
  • Numbers and Symbols refers to the understanding that a specific number is a symbol and that symbol stands for a set of specific items.  
  • Shapes-also known as early geometry!  It is the study of shapes!
  • Spatial Sense is the ability to place items in the correct spaces or places using a logical design or a pattern.  
  • Measurement is the ability to give an item a number and then use that to compare and put in order other items. includes many areas such as weight, length, height, volume, temperature and time (the latter three being higher level skills). 
  • Patterns are the ability to place items in a specific order that repeats
  • Parts and Wholes are an early fraction skill.
  • Sets and Classifying: Creating sets is the ability to make groups of items in a logical way. Creating sets requires the skill of Classifying (which is a higher level skill than Creating Sets).  Classifying is a higher level skill than comparing.  It is when children (after observing and comparing) take the information learned and begin sorting, classifying and grouping in logical ways.  
  • Ordering or Seriation is when a child compares more than two items or groups and places the items in a logical sequence
  • Comparing is the ability to identify similarities in items or groups.  
  • Graphing is a way of recording or communicating observations and data that the children have learned. 
  • Groups and Symbols refer to grouping items in larger quantities which require higher level math skills (addition and/or multiplication).

WOW!  That is a LOT of math going on!

Take a breath!  Relax!

Teaching preschool math does not require you to talk at the children.  (i.e. using flashcards: "What number is this?"  "How many ducks are on this picture?")

Rather, it requires you to provide materials and activities throughout your classroom that allow your children to investigate, explore, handle and use materials freely.

So, how DO you plan for the skills children need?

I know you may be thinking there should be a month by month plan with a breakdown to show which math process skill to focus on each month.

Sorry, there is not.  And, it would not be helpful to your preschoolers.  

Why?  If you are focusing, for example, on shapes and patterns in October, what about your preschoolers who do not have enough experience sorting?  They will become frustrated because they are still figuring out how to sort by general attributes.  Creating patterns is NOT where they are at.

The best and only way to plan a month by month focus of math skills for your classroom is by excellent observing and documenting on your part.

Use Your Documentation to Create
Hands-on Preschool Math Activities!

Observing and documenting are the only ways in which you can ensure that you are providing activities based on where your individual preschoolers are at.  Spend a week just observing and documenting!  

Observe them during interest center time, at snack time, during outside or indoor gross motor play.

What do they do, talk about or demonstrate that show you their math knowledge?

Do they set 4 spaces at the dramatic play table for their friends?  This is rational counting and one-to-one correspondence.  Check those off for those children!

Do they instruct their friends to jump 4 times because they are 4 years old?  This is number sense, symbols, and great math language!  Check those off!

Now that you know what preschoolers need to learn in the area of math, how do you go about teaching those skills?  Well, one skill at a time!  You probably already provide activities that support these skills and are not aware of them.

I have 13 favorite math activities and each one supports a specific math process skill!  Become a free member of my Teacher Club (yup....it's FREE!) and I'll send you the list and the instructions on how to make each one!

Click Here For Your Packet!

4 Ways To Prepare for Teaching Preschool Math

1.  LEARN MORE about these process skills! 

Teaching preschool math in your classroom can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for all involved when you are armed with the best information and resources. 

That's where I come in!

I have a 4 hour, online workshop all about preschool math.  It is a self-study training and will help you 

  • Understand, in detail, each of the 17 math process skills
  • Practice observing your children to identify where they are in their math skill development
  • Plan activities for teaching preschool math throughout your classroom

This 4-hour workshop is only $15!  It MIGHT qualify for your annual in-service hours, depending on your state. (And even if it does not, you will have gained valuable knowledge on how to incorporate preschool math into your program).

Learn more my Math in the Preschool Classroom workshop by clicking here!   

TOTALLY shameless plug in 3...2...1...

Here is what Deborah F. says about the workshops I offer:

"Thank you for this workshop. I’ve never done anything like this online before, but after completing this, I would be MOST willing and interested in taking another workshop from you.  I thought it well organized and informative.  

Quite frankly, I would rather participate in another of your workshops than attend some of the preschool conferences that seem to be out there these days.  

After 24 years of teaching, I really, really try to find new and fresh ideas and ways to implement them in class and quite frankly, I walk away from a lot of these thinking, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt,” and felt like my time spent was completely wasted (as do my fellow teachers of comparable years in school).  

I realize that many of the workshops are geared to the beginning teachers, and that is good.  Many of the physical workshops out there do not require much of you in the way of effort in thought on the subject matter. 

Again, I thought what you offered was excellent.  Thank you!"

2.  Read.  Learn.  Rinse.  Repeat!

Read, read, read!  There are so many amazing resources available to us to learn more about all areas of preschool development, including preschool math!

Here are some of my favorite preschool math planning books:

Math Mats & More

More Than Counting: Math Activities for Preschool and Kindergarten, Standards Edition

Math Play! (Williamson Little Hands Series)

3.  Set Up A Math Interest Center In Your Classroom!

You don't NEED a specified center for math because math happens everywhere!  However, having a dedicated space ensures that you have math materials out for the children to choose from!

Your preschoolers will have access to so much by having a math center in your classroom from developing their math process skills to developing their fine motor skills as well!

Check out my article on how to set up a Math & Manipulatives Interest Learning Center in your classroom by clicking here.

4.  Plan Math Activities and SHARE THEM!

Share your activities with others!  Share your ideas and activities with your co-workers!  We all learn together--help each other out by sharing instructions and activities with teachers in other classrooms!

Also, share this page with co-teachers!

Teaching Preschool Math--Just Do It!

Teaching preschool math does not need to be time consuming and is not complicated!  It only requires that you know your preschoolers' abilities and you know about the math process skills.

Once you know these 2 things, you can provide the materials your preschools need to develop their math understanding and skills.

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:


Go to Preschool Plan It's Home Page


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