By Diana Townsend-Butterworth
On any given day, your child and his preschool pals divide cookies or pretzels into equal piles for snacks. They build bridges and tall towers with wooden blocks. They string beads into colorful patterns. They weigh the class rabbit and measure the length and width of its cage. They learn to balance a seesaw when one child is heavier than another. They discover which trucks are too big to fit in the toy garage and compare the number of shells they find at the beach.
Preschoolers do math even though they are not sitting at desks with workbooks or memorizing multiplication tables. Math is helping them to make sense of the world around them and teaching them to reason and problem solve. It's not limited to a specific period or time of day, says Marilou Hyson, associate executive director for professional development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Instead it is a natural part of young children's play and daily activities. They explore mathematical concepts as they sort, classify, compare quantities, balance blocks, notice shapes, and find patterns.
Preschool teachers build on children's prior knowledge and capitalize on their spontaneous discoveries to further their understanding of mathematical concepts. As children build with blocks, their teacher introduces the concepts of higher, lower, in front of, behind, larger, smaller, equal, horizontal, vertical, parallel, odd, and even, says Mary Jane Belt, a teacher in Long Island, New York. When the class does an art project, such as putting feathers on the outline of a duck, the teacher might say the duck needs six feathers for his tail. One child puts on two feathers and a second child puts on three. The teacher then asks, "How many feathers does the duck have? Let's count them. Does he need more? How many?" When children are in the literacy area listening to a story, the teacher might ask: "How many elephants do you see on this page? How many do you see with their trunks in the air? How many have babies with them?"
The NAEYC and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have outlined the following as particularly important parts of mathematical learning in preschool:
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