Why is math important in early childhood

The importance of math in the early years

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on November 16, 2018. We have completely revamped and updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Enjoy!

Children use early math skills every day, whether at school or at home, during their routines or at play. Getting dressed and brushing teeth, eating breakfast, going grocery shopping–all of these activities present opportunities for teaching mathematics in early childhood when approached with the right mindset.

Importance of numeracy in early childhood

Numeracy–understanding how numbers represent the world–is present in children long before they open their first math textbook. Mathematics plays a major role in a child’s development and helps children make sense of the world around them. Research has shown that babies as young as 3 months are sensitive to differences in quantity, so it’s never too soon to start teaching mathematics in early childhood education. There are plenty of fun ways to introduce math in the classroom: songs with numbers and operations, observing patterns in nature, even geometric snack time!

Whatever your approach, the benefits of teaching mathematics to children through play are enormous. In fact, mathematical ability in the early years is a better predictor of future academic success than reading or attention. Encouraging mathematical skills in young children can also help to discourage them from forming harmful biases at an early age. Studies have shown that children express the stereotype that “math is for boys” about themselves and others as early as second grade. Even educators have been found to have biases about the mathematical abilities of female, black, and Hispanic students. Making mathematics a part of daily life from a young age helps reinforce the idea that math is for everyone.

Examples of math-focused play materials

Examples of math-focused play materials

Any of the following commonly-found items can be used as tools to help teach fundamental math skills such as adding and subtracting:

  • Peg number boards
  • Counting bears
  • Car garages
  • Magnetic 2D and 3D blocks
  • Number tracing sheets
  • Tangrams
  • Playdough
  • Books
  • Puzzles

Check out more than 1,000 free developmentally appropriate activities for the classroom for more inspiration!

Teaching mathematics in early childhood

Parents and educators play an important role in early childhood development by providing opportunities for children to learn and develop new skills. Adults need to allow children to direct their own play and support them by enhancing or extending their play. In order to give children the best chance to develop their math skills, adults must give them opportunities to:

  • Discover and create.
  • Use number concepts and skills to explore.
  • Develop confidence in their ability to think things through.
  • Solve meaningful problems.
  • Create connections to help discover relationships (e.g. characteristics).

Teaching math skills in the early years is an entire subject in its own right, but the key is to make it hands-on, cross-domain, and above all, meaningful. 

Math play: examples from a preschool classroom


This category includes ordering and comparing objects to figure out time, weight and length. For example, Kyle held up his block tower and said, “this is taller than me.” James looked towards Kyle and pointed towards the block tower. “Me too, it’s taller than me,” he said as he looked up towards the top of the block tower. Kyle and James demonstrated how they could compare how tall the block tower is to each of their heights.


Also known as number sense, this category includes saying number words, writing numbers, counting, and recognizing a number of objects. For example, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,” counted Devon as he pointed towards the cars lined up on the table. “I have more than you,” he said as he pointed towards Melissa’s cars lined up. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…oh yeah,” she said as she pointed towards her cars lined up next to Devon’s cars. Devon and Melissa demonstrated counting and recognizing the number of cars they each had to compare each other’s quantities. 

Pattern and shape

This category includes identifying or creating patterns and shapes. For example, Jeremy and Mira sat on the carpet next to one another in the block area. Jeremy placed a magnetic block together. “I’m making a house,” he said as he placed more magnetic blocks together. He took a magnetic block apart and said, “this needs to be over here,” and pointed at his magnetic blocks on the floor. Mira looked towards Jeremy’s magnetic blocks and pointed down toward her magnetic blocks. “I’m making a pizza,” she said. Jeremy and Mira created patterns and shapes with 2D magnetic blocks to build symmetrical structures.


This category includes grouping or sorting objects by characteristics. For example, Casey placed a red horse into the red bowl. She picked up a blue pig and placed the blue pig into the blue bowl. “The blue pig goes in the blue pig pen,” she said. Casey was classifying by sorting the blue and red animals into the corresponding same colored bowls.


This category includes using symbols or tokens to refer to quantities and operations. For example, Sarah takes four crackers from the plate. “Four because I am four,” she said. Preetish points to his plate: “I have four grapes because I’m four, too.” Sarah and Preetish are representing their age using snacks.


This category includes the ability to approximate values, i. e., make an educated guess about size or quantity. For example, Jack is shown a jar filled with jellybeans and asked to guess how many are inside. “There must be a hundred jellybeans there!” he said. “I bet there’s a thousand jellybeans,” Sheena guessed. Jack and Sheena are estimating by trying to guess how many jellybeans are in the jar.

Developmental milestones in mathematics

Every child develops at their own pace, and math skills are no exception. However, having a set of milestones to refer to can help educators create developmentally appropriate lesson plans and communicate progress with parents and caregivers.

Math skills in toddlers

  • Measurement: understand comparative words
  • Numeracy: recite number sequences
  • Pattern and shape: match basic shapes
  • Classification: basic categorization
  • Representation: understand numbers mean “how many”
  • Estimation: experiments with size by filling containers

Math skills from age 2-3

  • Measurement: compare two objects by size, height, etc.
  • Numeracy: counting up to 20 and accurately counting items in a group
  • Pattern and shape: recognize shapes and patterns in the world
  • Classification: sort objects by shape, color, etc.
  • Representation: understands that numerals stand for number names
  • Estimation: understands “small” vs “large” numbers (1 vs 100)

Math skills from age 4-5

  • Measurement: understands basic time concepts- morning, days of the week
  • Numeracy: add by counting fingers
  • Pattern and shape: can draw symmetrical shapes
  • Classification: understands abstract categories, such as possibility
  • Representation: can use basic maps to find “hidden treasure”
  • Estimation: identify the larger of two numbers expressed as numerals

Preschool activities to introduce math and counting

Gummy bear patterns: Using candy or food during a math lesson can be a great way to hold a child’s interest. It allows them to use real world materials (candy in this case!) to create and extend patterns while practicing sorting and counting. All of these skills can easily be transferable to the classroom for circle time and worksheets!

Roll and cover raindrops dice game: Roll, count, cover! It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3….4, 5, 6! Grab a game die, print out our printable, and use small rocks or beads to cover the numbers! 

Fishy, fishy math: Fish crackers are a yummy snack, but they can also be used to learn pre-math skills such as counting, grouping, and patterning! 

Counting stars: Combine children’s love for stickers to make a beautiful starry sky with our counting stars activity.

Finger shapes: Sing a song about shapes while using fingers to make them. No materials needed!

Recommended books for math concepts

Counting and Numbers

Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 by Karma Wilson – This is a fun book, which gives children the opportunity to read, count and learn about numbers.


Pattern Bugs by Trudy Harris – This is a visual book, which uses language and illustrations to show many different patterns. This is a great book for repetition and pattern learning.


A Pair of Socks By Stuart J.Murphy – This is a great book that teaches children about matching, specifically matching socks to one another.


The Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring – This sweet book teaches children about the many shapes found in the world.


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin – This book is fun and always gets the children excited. This book is about a cat named Pete who walks down the street in his new pair of white shoes, but along the way, his shoes change colors (e. g. red, blue, brown) as he steps into different things.

Math is an important part of learning for children in the early years because it provides vital life skills. They will help children problem solve, measure and develop their own spatial awareness, and teach them how to use and understand shapes. 

Math matters

Math is an important part of learning for children in the early years because it provides vital life skills. Even in the early years, mathematics helps children problem solve, measure and develop their own spatial awareness, along with how to use and understand shapes. And, the best part is that your lesson plan for teaching mathematics in early childhood is limited only by your imagination!

Download our FREE Preschool Progress Report Template to help track your children’s development in mathematics and other domains!

Why is Math Important in Early Learning? — Good2Know Network

Natalie Hendricks

Tips & Tools

Natalie Hendricks

Tips & Tools

Early literacy is regularly discussed in conversations about early learning, while early math skills, are often not given as much consideration. Preschool and early learning curriculum emphasizes writing, learning letters, and word identification as part of kindergarten readiness, while giving little or no attention to number sense and basic math concepts, which are also important skills for children to know as they enter elementary school.

In fact, math curriculum is often almost completely left out of a typical preschool schedule. The University of Denver shared that researchers have calculated only 58 seconds per day of math instruction in preschools where children spend six hours a day.  

Why is Math Important in Early Learning?

Introducing math-oriented activities to children before kindergarten, helps set them up for academic success in elementary school and beyond. A 2007 study entitled School Readiness and Later Achievement found that early math skills are one of the best predictors of later success. The research was organized by economist and education professor, Greg Duncan, who is a national expert on the importance of strong early math skills. Duncan explains, “Math coming into school is important because kids who do well in math early on tend to do very well in school. And math is important later on because kids who do well in math in high school end up doing well in the labor market.”

In addition to setting children up for later academic success, math skills are foundational for  important skills such as critical thinking and logic. Dr. Jie-Q Chen, professor of Child Development at the Erikson Institute, principal investigator of the Early Math Collaborative, and co-author of Big ideas of early mathematics: What teachers of young children need to know explains that “math is the language of logic...math builds reasoning, which leads to comprehension. Developing a mentally organized way of thinking is critical.”

The Basics

Concordia University Portland shares three basic math skills that children should learn in preschool to build a foundation of understanding. When children understand these concepts early, elementary teachers are able to focus on the application of the concepts and children are  better prepared to learn more advanced skills.

  1. Number sense: Number sense is the first step in math awareness.  It describes the basics of learning about numbers, including counting forwards and backwards in order to understand the relationship between numbers.

  2. Learning numbers through representation or pictures: From a young age, children can build relationships between numbers and represented items. Numbers can be represented with objects, pictures, or family members as a way to make the concept more real and less abstract to young learners.

  3. Adding and subtracting: Adding and subtracting are more advanced skills that should be taught after the introduction of number sense and representation. The basics of addition and subtraction can be introduced through normal daily interactions between children, such as sharing and counting snacks, blocks, or crayons.

Circle Time Math

Dr. Deborah Stipek of Stanford University notes that Circle Time offers a great opportunity to introduce and reinforce math concepts.  She recommends the following concepts and Circle Time activities:

Numbers and Operations

Children can work on counting, adding, and subtracting during circle time.  Counting by category deepens children’s number sense. Ask, for example, how many boys,  how many girls, and how many children in total are in the classroom.


Preschoolers enjoy working with rhythmic and visual patterns, and these are a great way to introduce math skills. During circle time, have children follow your lead in clapping out different rhythmic patterns and then talk about the pattern-- “three loud claps, one soft clap, one stomp.” Find patterns in children’s clothing and around the room, such as stripes, checkers, and dots.


Comparing various sizes, such as the height or length of arms and legs can help children develop a basic understanding of measurement.

Shape and Space

Encourage children to discuss the shapes they see, by asking them to find items that have triangles, squares, circles and then comparing each shape to notice the differences. Many children’s books introduce shape and space math concepts and can be enjoyed with children during circle time.

Tagged: classroom & curriculum, STEM & numeracy

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Why is it necessary to study mathematics with a child

Why is it necessary to study mathematics? Every child asks such a question to his parents, not fully understanding how such a complex subject is useful in life. In this article we talk about the role of learning mathematics in the development of a child and explain how to awaken motivation for classes.

The role of mathematics is really huge in our life. Without this science, the world would be different. If it did not develop, there would be no great discoveries, there would not be those things that we use today. Now more specifically, why you need to love counting from the cradle. nine0003

1. Mathematics trains memory

Memory is one of the most important functions of the psyche, on which other processes are built. Therefore, from early childhood, the child must be taught the ways and techniques of effective memorization of information.

Early math lessons that are related to counting will help with this. There is an opinion that if children count well, then they have a mathematical mindset. But is it? Not really. Memory and thought processes develop only if the counting is done consciously, and not mechanically. nine0003

Until the age of 7, children use their fingers or various objects to count. But this skill alone will not develop mathematical thinking. It is the solution of problems that trains the brain and memory, develops the flexibility of the mind, helping to understand the relationship and cover the whole problem in order to find non-standard ways out of various situations.

Conclusion: solve problems with your child to develop memory.

2. Mathematics teaches you to think

Regular training in the gym strengthens the body, and constant practice of mathematics trains the mind. In the process of computing activity, the child improves:

  • ability to reason and analyze;
  • think logically;
  • highlight the main thing;
  • structure and draw conclusions.

See also: “How to develop creative thinking in a child at home? TRIZ Methods for Children from 5 Years Old»

Here is an example of home games that will help a child develop creative thinking.

3. Mathematics teaches you not to give up and not stop there

To solve a problem correctly, children need to be precise, attentive, responsible and persistent.

The more often your son or daughter pumps these skills, the smarter he will become. In the future, this will help not only with studies, but also in life.

4. Music and mathematics: where is the connection?

Did you know that the same area of ​​the brain is responsible for the development of musical and mathematical abilities? Or that some musical hits gain popularity due to their "mathematical" structure? nine0003

For example, hip-hop wins the hearts of young people with repetitive improvisations and rhythmic beats. Such love is due to the innate need of people for repetitive elements and rhythm.

It follows that parallel studies in these two areas will help your child become the Albert Einstein or Sherlock Holmes of his time in the future.

5. Math Helps You Succeed in Other Sciences

Early math classes lay the foundation on which to build your ability in other school subjects. If you look at different disciplines more broadly, you can see that geography, chemistry, physics, biology, drawing are closely related to mathematics. nine0003

From observations: if a student has problems with algebra and geometry, in 95% of cases he will also have difficulties with physics and chemistry.

The conclusion is obvious - build a solid base by doing mathematics with your child from early childhood.

6. Everyday tasks seem less complicated and are solved faster

The longer and deeper the child studies mathematics, the better he copes with daily activities in all areas of life. Accurate calculations and calculations teach to reason, think through algorithms of actions and build sequences. Thanks to mathematics, the child learns to check the facts and get to the bottom of the truth, and not to speculate. Learn from life situations and draw conclusions. nine0003

Read here how to develop logical thinking and prepare a child for learning mathematics with the help of simple games.

7. Learning mathematics and developing thinking is the key to success in a career

The modern world is an era of technological development, where IT workers are the most in demand. And one cannot do without a mathematical mindset: the ability to calculate well, think critically and strategically, and build complex algorithms.

If you want your child to master the profession of the future, do math with him.

In conclusion, we want to talk about motivation. With preschoolers and younger students, use play in the classroom. This form of presentation of information is understandable and interesting to children. Take on board various methods of conveying information: mobile and role-playing games, question-answer, exercises.

When organizing a lesson, consider the age and individual characteristics of the child. Then he will study at his own will and with burning eyes, and the results will not be long in coming. nine0003

Read also:

The child does not want to study: what are the reasons and what should parents do?

Rules of motivation in teaching preschool children

6 reasons to teach a child in an online school

Mathematics and its importance in the development of preschool children

Even in early childhood, babies are faced with objects that differ in shape, color and quantity. At this age, the basic elementary ideas and abilities of the child begin to form. The first toys resemble geometric shapes: cubes, constructors, pyramids. The count begins with mom's questions: "Tell me, how old are you?". Parents of children are taught to name the shapes of toys, their size, quantity. nine0003

Through play activities, the ability to distinguish different properties and features of objects is formed. The baby is forming the first concept of mathematics, although he still does not know and is not aware of this. The consciousness of a child in early childhood is chaotic. Parents teach children to compare, group objects, call them by their proper names.

Through visual-objective actions - they help the child to remember what he heard on the basis of objective images. Before the age of three, the child already knows how to group objects according to their external features, color, shape. So, for example, a child can put green toys away from red ones, choose pencils from a pile of other objects and put them together, can add pyramids in size, in order of the pyramid rings. nine0117 Being engaged with objects through game activity, the child compares them. This is where the first acquaintance with mathematics begins.

By the age of four, children can easily count up to five, and a little older up to ten, but they can also make mistakes in counting.

By the age of six, children already begin to understand when the numbers increase and when they decrease. That is why it is important to start systematic classes from kindergarten in order to increase the mental perception of the child.

In today's modern society, one of the requirements for preschool education is that children receive mathematical knowledge and elementary ideas in kindergarten.
Preschoolers in the course of their development receive the first elementary ideas about mathematics. The available methods and means of forming elementary mathematical representations are developed specifically for age categories, taking into account the gradual development of skills and abilities in preschoolers in this direction. nine0003

Mathematics is an independent educational subject and is designed to develop intellectual abilities depending on the natural potential of preschoolers. Its role in the development of elementary ideas in preschoolers is very great. In the course of such activities, the child develops and develops cognitive and personal abilities.
In the process of learning, through the means of mathematical classes, the child receives the first ideas about mathematical concepts.

Mathematics is one of the few disciplines that covers different aspects of the personality of children. In the process of forming elementary mathematical concepts and learning, preschoolers actively develop all cognitive processes: speech, thinking, memory, perception, and representation. This becomes effective if, when setting up classes, the frequency and sequence of the development of cognitive processes in a child are taken into account, depending on the psychophysical development of each child.

If a child has not reached the age at which he is able to understand mathematical processes, then classes will not play any role for his consciousness. The possibilities of the child are determined by his psychology. In the modern world, innovative methods and means are increasingly included in the educational programs for preschoolers.

The abilities of each child depend on his individual psychological characteristics. Mathematical abilities cannot be innate, since only anatomical and physiological features of a person are innate. Mathematical is a special kind of abilities, they depend on the integral quality of the mind and develop in the process of mathematical activity. nine0003

A person's abilities can manifest themselves in various areas, and here, like everything else, mathematical abilities are revealed in the course of a preschooler's activities. The preschool age is considered the most favorable period for the development of abilities.
An analysis of scientific research (A. M. Leushina, N.I. Nepomnyashchaya, A.A. Stolyar, etc.), pedagogical experience convinces us that rationally organized teaching of mathematics to preschool children ensures the overall mental development of children. (Rationally organized education is timely, appropriate for the age and interests of children.) At the same time, pedagogical guidance from an adult is important. Children acquire elementary knowledge about the multitude, number, size and shape of objects, learn to navigate in time and space. They master the account and measurements of linear and volumetric objects with the help of conditional and generally accepted measures, establish quantitative relationships between quantities, the whole and parts. nine0003

In recent years, such a concept as pre-mathematical preparation has been introduced into practice. Preparing the child and his cognitive world for the mathematical way of thinking. A variety of ways of forming the cognitive sphere allow you to prepare the child for the study of the subject - mathematics. When organizing classes, there is an impact on visual and logical thinking, memory, creative imagination, perception, voluntary attention of a preschooler.

Children at preschool age observe and imitate adults, they observe every action and listen carefully to what the teacher says and this is an important property. Children should be taught to act independently, show and tell about their actions. Preschoolers should be encouraged to repeat after the teacher about the properties and qualities of objects. Games with children should contain mathematical actions. nine0003

Mathematics classes in kindergarten form the simplest types of practical and mental activities of children. Under the types of activity - in this case, methods of examination, counting, measurement - they understand the objective sequential actions that the child must perform in order to assimilate knowledge: element-by-element comparison of two sets, imposing measures, etc. Mastering these actions, the child learns the purpose and methods of activity, as well as rules that ensure the formation of knowledge. nine0003

As a rule, educational tasks in the classroom are solved in combination with educational ones. So, the educator teaches children to be organized, independent, listen carefully, do the work efficiently and on time. This disciplines children, contributes to the formation of their focus, organization, responsibility. Thus, teaching children mathematics from an early age ensures their comprehensive development.

Naturally, the basis of knowledge is sensory development, acquired through experience and observation. In the process of sensory cognition, representations are formed - images of objects, their properties, relationships. So, operating with a variety of sets (objects, toys, pictures, geometric shapes), children learn to establish equality and inequality of sets, to call the number of words: “more”, “less”, “equally”. nine0003

Comparison of specific sets prepares children for the subsequent assimilation of the concept of number. It is operations with sets that are the basis that children turn to not only in kindergarten, but also throughout the subsequent years of schooling. The idea of ​​a set forms in children the basis for understanding an abstract number, the laws of a natural series of numbers. Although the concepts of a natural number, as well as a geometric figure, magnitude, part and whole are abstract, nevertheless they reflect the connections and relationships of objects in the surrounding reality. nine0003

At the same time, preschoolers are taught to compare objects by size (size) and designate the results of the comparison with the corresponding words-concepts (“more - less”, “narrow - wide”, etc.), build rows of objects according to their size in ascending or decreasing order (large , small, even smaller, smallest). However, in order for the child to learn these concepts, it is necessary to form specific ideas in him, teach him to compare objects with each other, first directly - by superimposing, and then indirectly - with the help of measurement. nine0003

The central task of the mathematical development of children in kindergarten is learning to count. The main methods in this case are imposition and application, the mastery of which anticipates learning to count with the help of numeral words.

Preschool children are able to divide objects and name their parts, such as dividing an apple into slices or a pie. Preschoolers need to understand that a whole apple is bigger than a slice or half of an apple. Senior students must learn and understand that the number 7 is greater than six, but less than eight. By the end of the training period, preschoolers should be able to perform simple mathematical operations. nine0003

In the mathematical training of children, the development of elementary mathematical concepts, an important role is played by the teaching of measurement, as the initial way of knowing the quantitative characteristics of the environment. This makes it possible for preschoolers, first of all, to use not generally accepted, but conditional measures when measuring bulk, liquid substances and lengths. At the same time, children develop an eye, which is very important for their sensory development.

The kindergarten math program provides for the development of children's eye in determining the size of objects. To do this, they are trained to evaluate the size (size of objects) as a whole or by individual parameters, comparing with the size of known objects. Attention is drawn to the formation of the ability to check the correctness of the assessment in their practical activities, using additions, reductions, etc. Each practical action replenishes the knowledge of children with new content. It is proved that the formation of elementary mathematical knowledge occurs simultaneously with the development of their practical skills and abilities

Practical actions, while playing a certain role in the mathematical development of children, do not themselves remain unchanged. Thus, the activity associated with the account is changed. At first, it relies on a practical element-by-element comparison of two concrete sets, and later, a number as an indicator of the power of a set and a natural series of numbers acquires special significance, which subsequently replaces one of the concrete sets.
First, children take objects with their hands, shift them, and then count the objects without touching them, or perceive them only by touch. nine0003

On the basis of practical actions, children develop such mental operations as analysis, synthesis, comparison, generalization. The teacher should be guided in evaluating the results of his work, first of all, on these indicators, on how children are able to compare, analyze, generalize, and draw conclusions.

In the process of systematic teaching of mathematics, children master special terminology - the names of numbers, geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle, rhombus, etc.), elements of figures (side, top, base), etc. However, it is not recommended when working with children to use such words-terms as “natural rad”, “set”, “structure”, “elements of the set”, etc. Children should also master measured values: meter, centimeter, kilogram, gram, etc. At the same time, work is not limited to classes. They learn to find and compare objects in everyday life, on the street and in nature. For example: three birch trees under the window. nine0003

Shcherbakova E.I. among the tasks for the formation of elementary mathematical knowledge and the subsequent mathematical development of children, he singles out the main ones:

- the acquisition of knowledge about the set, number, size, shape, space and time as the foundations of mathematical development;

– formation of a broad initial orientation in the quantitative, spatial and temporal relations of the surrounding reality;

- formation of skills and abilities in counting, calculations, measurement, modeling, general educational skills; nine0003

- mastery of mathematical terminology;

- development of cognitive interests and abilities, logical thinking, general intellectual development of the child.

These tasks are most often solved by the teacher at the same time in each lesson in mathematics, as well as in the process of organizing various types of independent children's activities.

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