This post will explain what the main preschool math skills are; how young children actually use them in their day to day lives; as well as give you some ways you can help your children develop their mathematical mind!
Just like reading, math is a fundamental skill that is taught in schools and is a major way in which children are monitored and measured throughout their academic life.
I’m not saying I agree with all the testing young children have to go through – in fact I strongly disagree with it – but until something changes it is the way it is.
I do however, see the value of young children learning basic math.
A knowledge of math can help children to make sense of the world around them and solve problems in their every day life. These Preschool math skills can also help them when it comes to learning more complicated math as they get older.
I would say though, that I believe any learning at this age should be a fun and enjoyable experience for your child. Don’t force them to learn if they don’t want to or are not ready for it yet.
Always remember, play is one of the greatest ways children learn!
What Are The Main Preschool Math Skills?
The main preschool math skills your child will begin to learn and understand are:
- Number – this includes number recognition, counting, ordering and understanding that numbers can be represented in different ways.
- Operations – in preschool the main operations children will think about are adding and subtracting but others, like multiplying and dividing may also be learnt. It’s about realising that numbers get bigger if you add and smaller if you take away.
- Shapes and Geometry – being able to recognise and describe shapes, and understanding the relationships between shapes and that they can be rotated and moved whilst still remaining the same shape.
- Measurement – being able to compare and measure things to work out ‘how much’ of something an object has. For example, height, weight, length, etc.
- Data Analysis – starting to think about how to organise and represent information to be able to ask and answer questions.
These are just the main ones but others like algebra are also touched upon.
Algebra, I hear you say!
I can’t even do algebra!
Forget about the horrible algebra lessons you fell asleep in during high school, algebra is really just using symbols (often letters) instead of numbers. For preschool children, algebra is often taught through learning about patterns.
Why Are Learning These Preschool Math Skills Important?
A skill is only important if you use it.
If I can balance 10 dozen eggs on my head it’s only really going to help me if I’m an egg salesman (that was a weird analogy but I thought it so I wrote it).
Other than that it’s pretty pointless.
It’s the same with these preschool math skills. Your children are only going to be interested in learning about them if they have a real world use for them.
So, let’s take a look at how understanding the skills above can be used in your kid’s lives.
As you’ll see, many of them are interlinked.
Number and operations are closely linked and are probably the most important early maths skills to develop.
One of the main parts of number is counting. Preschoolers can use counting to see how many of something they’ve got – how many toys they take out with them so they know they don’t lose any. Or how many stickers they have left to stick before they’re all stuck.
Number recognition is also a part of this, and can help them when they’re out and about. It can help them recognise house numbers and will help them as they begin to learn to tell the time. It’s also really prepares them for when they have to buy things.
Number recognition also helps reinforce the fact that numbers can be represented in different ways – a really important concept.
Operations are closely related to number and linked in many ways. Your children really need to have a grasp of counting before they can use that knowledge to begin to manipulate numbers.
Having said that, young children use operations all the time without even thinking about it.
When they’re snacking, they realise that if you give them more grapes the amount they already have gets bigger, but if they keep eating the grapes, one at a time, eventually they will all be gone.
They use division when they share their toys with their friends so that they both have some.
They use subtraction when they take some toys out of a box and they realise that some are still left inside.
Shape and Geometry
Geometry and spatial awareness are important for your children as they involve understanding the space in which they live. It helps them to understand their place in space in relation to other objects.
This will obviously help them when it comes to moving around, understanding the shape and size of their bodies and ensuring they don’t bump into anything when exploring their world!
A knowledge of shapes also helps children to understand objects and how things are put together in the world around them.
Measurement is linked to counting.
Well actually counting is a type of measurement. It measures how many objects are in a group.
If they can measure then they can also compare. They’ll be able to tell which pile of blocks is the smallest or which one of their grandparents gives them the most treats.
If a child is playing with playdough (it’s great for them by the way) and they are given another ball of playdough they can pick them both up to judge which one is the heaviest. Or they can measure them with their eyes to decide which one looks the biggest. Or they can roll them both into sausages and lay them next to each other to tell which one is the longest.
Measurement will also be used when they go to get their new shoes, or when they tell you that they are bigger than the little baby over there in the pushchair!
“Data analysis contains one big idea: classifying, organizing, representing, and using information to ask and answer questions.” ~Douglas Clements, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Denver.
With preschool children data analysis is largely about sorting things based on their attributes.
Children may use data analysis when they are sorting their toys into groups.
My little boy loves sea creatures and he has a lot of figurines. He will often group then by type;
“Sharks go here…”
“Crab goes here…”
Your children might group their toys in different ways, their vehicles may be sorted by color, or how many wheels they have.
I hope that’s shown you how useful preschool math skills can be to your little ones and how they use them, often naturally in their everyday lives.
But there’s more…
Learning these skills will also give your children a firm foundation for their mathematical knowledge to be built upon – which will help them succeed as they move up through school.
The things with math is, if you understand the basics, the rest is just so much easier to learn.
And it’s even been shown that children that have a good grasp of the preschool maths skills will go on to perform better in science and reading as well.
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has also found that the math abilities of young children can determine how much they earn when they’re older! They found that the children who scored in the top 15% of Math tests at age 10 were likely to earn 7.3%, or around £2100 ($2768) a year more as an adult.
Not too shabby!
How Can You Help Your Children Develop Preschool Math Skills?
So then, this is the big question.
What can we do to help our little ones get better at math?
If you’re thinking your child may be a little young to start developing their preschool math skills, don’t worry.
Number knowledge has been shown to emerge surprisingly early!
In fact, babies as young as 6 months, have been shown to have number sense. In this study, babies which were shown pictures that always had three objects – even when the objects were changed – lost interest after a while but as soon as the amount of objects was changed the babies noticed the difference and became interested again.
Below is a table with the typical ages that children reach other mathematical milestones:
Judging by that evidence, I’d say that just like reading, it’s never too early to teach them about math. The trick is to do it naturally. Just slip it in!
RELATED if you’d like to make the most out of the times you and your children read together – I’ve written an article with 8 proven strategies to get better at reading aloud to children!
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What Skills Will Help Your Little Ones Learn Math
The development of math skills isn’t just reliant on their previous mathematical knowledge and skills. There’s actually quite a lot of other skills that come into play as well:
This includes working memory and the ability for your child to hold information in their mind and manipulate it to solve problems.
This is about your child’s ability to communicate their mathematical thinking. If they have a confident grasp of mathematical language and can use math words to explain what they mean it shows that they have a good understanding of a particular concept.
Solid fine motor skills are needed for a variety of mathematical activities, for example, touching or moving objects as they count them; stacking blocks and experimenting with shape and space; and of course writing numbers.
This is your child’s ability to understand and control their emotions and thoughts in different situations. It helps them to be able to order their ideas and exercise control over their problem solving abilities.
Simple Ideas to improve your little one’s preschool math skills:
It’s never too young to start counting with your children! Here’s a few ways you can slip it in to everyday life:
When you’re walking up stairs, count them.
When your putting on their clothes, count their feet, their fingers or their toes.
When you you’re dishing out their food, count the potatoes.
You get the idea!
While you’re doing this, encourage them to count along with you.
With early counting, it’s important to count slowly and carefully, making sure you only count each item once (this is called one to one correspondence and is an important skill for your kids to grasp). And try to get them to understand that the last number you say is how many we have.
This constant counting of everyday things gets your children used to numbers and makes it a normal part of their life. They will begin to see things as amounts and their mathematical thinking will naturally improve as a result.
Counting On Fingers
As I mentioned above, number sense and counting are some of the most important preschool math skills for your children to develop.
And it’s been shown that the use of fingers can help children count, add and take away.
Fingers give them a visual representation of the numbers they are using.
If they have a problem to solve, say 4 + 2, they can easily get up 4 fingers on one hand and two on the other. They can then count the total. Or they can put the larger number into their head (4) and count on their fingers the smaller number (2) to get to the answer (6).
And the great thing about fingers is (hopefully) you’ll always have them with you!
Sing Counting Songs With Them
Following on from the two points above, counting songs and nursery rhymes can be another fun way to get some counting into your little one’s minds!
Because nursery rhymes are so repetitive and enjoyable for you little children to sing they really help them to remember the order of the numbers.
Some will even have them counting backwards – think 5 Little Ducks.
And some contain mathematical vocabulary to get them thinking about size, height, weight and shape – think Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Little Jack Horner and Thumbelina.
Related to learn more about the fascinating history of nursery rhymes and the other benefits they can have for your children why not check out: Are You Singing Nursery Rhymes With Your Kids? (Here’s 7 Amazing Reasons You Should Be!)
Playing With Blocks
Blocks are great! Not only can children let their creativity and imagination run wild, creating enormous castles or carefully constructed bridges, playing with blocks is also a great way for your kids to improve their understanding of shape and space.
A study has shown, through block play children can:
- Practice shape recognition and begin to categorise and sort different shapes
- Realise that larger shapes can be made up of smaller shapes
- And develop their understanding of how shapes can be manipulated
Another report found that block play can help develop children’s spatial awareness and the spatial language that goes with it.
Playing with blocks in preschool has also been shown to be connected to better math performance in Middle and High School.
So what are you waiting for? Pick up a block set and let them play!
Here’s some great sets if you don’t already have one:
Using Shape Puzzles
I’m sure most of you have some kind of a shape puzzle or sorter like these:
They can be great for teaching kids the basics of shape recognition and show that you may have to manipulate the shape to get it to fit correctly.
I’ll always remember the time when we were teaching my little boy about shape. He was only one and we’d been doing a lot of pointing out different shapes and showing him them in books.
Then, he pointed to one on the puzzle and said square, then he looked up to the ceiling and pointed at it and said ‘biiig square’. It was so cute and such a great moment where he moved his learning into the real world.
I was very proud!
Pointing Out Shapes in the Real World
There are shapes everywhere in the real world!
A window is normally a square or rectangle. As are most books.
Road signs can be circles or triangles.
The moon can be a circle, or a semicircle, or a crescent!
An ice cube is… well a cube.
You see what I mean. As you’re walking around with your little ones take the time to point out different shapes and be sure to ask them what shapes they can see as well!
Make Everything a Game
I know I go on about play a lot, but I cannot say it enough – play is the best way young children learn!
If you can make what they are doing fun, then children will naturally absorb and take in what they are learning.
And more than that – they’ll want to do it again!
So make a game out of it. Whatever you’re doing – make it fun!
Check out Numberblocks
If you’re not aware of it, there’s also a brilliant math show by the BBC called Numberblocks.
It’s a fun, colorful show which can really help children to improve their number sense and visualization of numbers.
We actually use it as part of our preschool Math curriculum and use a lot of the videos in Reception (Kindergarten) Math as well.
Definitely worth checking out!
(I’ve even made some Numberblock-inspired characters you can get for free here! Now your little ones can play along while watching the show.)
Read Them Math Based Picture Books
I recently wrote the post 9 Surprising Benefits Of Picture Books For Children, which explains all about the importance of picture books for kids. They’re amazing!
Children learn so much when you read with them; you really should try to make it a part of your daily routine.
Picture books can be a great way to teach your little ones some preschool math skills and there are books for pretty much every area you’d want to cover.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Ten Little Pirates (Simon Rickerty and Mike Brownlow)
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes
A Place for Zero – A Math Adventure
Free Printable Math Activities You May Want To Try
Following on from the section above, I’ve created some free math based printables for you and your little ones.
These kind of printables can be an awesome hands-on way to help your little ones develop their preschool math skills such as number recognition and counting.
I’m always creating more so be sure to check back regularly.
Final Thoughts on Preschool Math Skills
So the main preschool math skills are:
- Data Analysis
These skills have a variety of real-world applications for your kids and can help them in many aspects of their daily life. From counting their toys to making sure they don’t bump into things when exploring.
But more than that, they give them a solid mathematical foundation and may even help them earn more when it’s time for them to get a job!
I hope you enjoyed learning about preschool math skills and that this article has given you some ideas about how you can get your little one thinking and learning about math.
They’ll be a pro mathematician in no time!
Until next time,
Let’s nurture those neurons!
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References And Further Reading
- Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics
- Block Talk: Spatial Language During Block Play
- Children’s understanding of counting
- Children’s understanding of the relation between addition and subtraction
- Children With Strong Maths Skills At Age 10 Earn Significantly More In Their 30s
- Early Mathematics Development And Later Achievement: Further Evidence
- Engaging Young Children In Mathematics: Standards For Early Childhood Mathematics Education. Studies In Mathematical Thinking And Learning Series
- Finger Counting And Numerical Cognition
- Handbook of Self-Regulation
- How Are Motor Skills Linked to Children’s School Performance and Academic Achievement?
- How Important Is Where You Start? Early Mathematics Knowledge And Later School Success
- Mathematics in Early Childhood and Primary Education
- Numerical Abstraction By Human Infants
- Perception of numerical invariance in neonates
- The Development Of Arithmetical Abilities
- The development of ordinal numerical knowledge in infancy
- Young Children’s Block Play and Mathematical Learning
I love that you advocate learning through play. When I see articles about early childhood education, I usually cringe. However, this one is excellent and right on point.
Learning through play is the greatest way!
Wow! This is an epic post on building your child’s early math skills. I have a small kid and your advice will surely help me in teaching my kid valuable math skills. Thanks.
Hope there’s something useful here for you!
My 8 year old still years not learn through “hands on” experiences. I really wish they implemented a more playful approach at school and not so stiff with the testing and the worksheets. And a great reminder for me to implement these tips with my preschooler
Play is great! We do a lot in the school I work in and you can really see the children learning – they definitely don’t need tests at that age!
Glad you enjoyed and thanks for stopping by!