Early Childhood Math

Authors:  Region 13 School Ready Team

What does quality math instruction look like in a Pre-K classroom?

Is doing math during “calendar time” enough to teach all the Pre-K Guidelines?

What type of math lessons should principals expect to see in Pre-K lesson plans?

Though most educators agree that literacy should receive prime focus in Pre-K, not all agree on the importance of also focusing heavily on math.  Yet, research shows that a child’s math skills can predict her reading success.* One study found that math skills in kindergarten were the primary predictor of later academic success (Duncan, Greg. “Achievement, Attention, and Behavior Across Middle Childhood.” School of Education – University of California, Irvine).

So, what does quality math instruction for 3-5 year olds look like? After a rigorous review of the research (What Works Clearinghouse and the Department of Education, November 2013), the Institute for Education Sciences found that when the following items were thoroughly in place, children’s math skills improved:

Math should be taught following a developmental progression.
While this may seem obvious, many teachers are not aware of the sequence of math learning and/or do not follow it. For example, some Pre-K teachers introduce operations—which is not a Pre-K Guideline—before teaching children how to compare quantities.

Regular progress monitoring should provide checks for understanding as well as information the teacher can use to differentiate instruction.

Children should be taught to use language and recordings to articulate their mathematical understanding.

Math should be taught throughout the day and across the curriculum.
Math instruction can be integrated into read alouds, centers, transitions, and daily routines.

 The information above makes it clear that teaching math primarily through “calendar time” is insufficient. Teachers need to offer explicit math instruction at least 3-5 times weekly (3 times for half day Pre-K, 5 times for full day Pre-K) followed by opportunities for children to apply their new math knowledge. This may take the form of a whole group math lesson followed by math stations. In math stations, children work in 4-6 groups on teacher-assigned math games and activities.



For more math station examples, see our Pinterest board.

Most importantly, children must be given structured, hands-on opportunities to practice new concepts. A teacher’s lesson plan should indicate plans for both explicit instruction AND opportunities for independent practice through math stations, small groups, and/or other meaningful formats.

The School Ready website provides a helpful Pre-K math lesson observation form aligned to the PDAS domains.


Questions to Consider:

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