Preschoolers do math even though they are not sitting at desks with workbooks or memorizing multiplication tables. Preschool math helps them make sense of the world around them and teaches them to reason and problem-solve. Teachers of preschool math build on children's prior knowledge and capitalize on their spontaneous discoveries to further their understanding of mathematical concepts.
The NAEYC and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have outlined the following as particularly important parts of preschool math learning:
- Numbers: In preschool math, children learn about numbers by counting objects and discussing the results. "You gave Chris six goldfish crackers. How many does Susie need?" Children count spaces on board games. They count the days until their birthdays. The teacher might say, "Yesterday there were 12 days until your birthday. How many days are there now?" Preschoolers read counting books and recite nursery rhymes with numbers.
- Geometry and spatial relations: Children practice constructing shapes and discussing their properties. They see skinny triangles and fat triangles and upside-down triangles and gradually realize that they are all still triangles.
- Measurement: Children compare the height of a block tower with the height of a desk or table. They measure each other and the distance from the kitchen corner to the water table. They learn that this block is too short to make a bridge over the road. Preschool math teachers reinforce children's findings by asking questions and making observations: "I wonder if this block is long enough to bridge the road. Let's try it."
- Patterns/geometry: Children become aware of patterns in their clothes. They learn to recognize patterns of different colors and sizes in beads and blocks. They practice reproducing simple patterns by stringing beads and copying designs with colored blocks.
- Analyzing data: Children sort objects by color, size, and shape, count them, and record the data on graphs and charts. These charts might reflect the class pet's growth, the number of rainy days in February, how many bean plants have sprouted, or the number of children with a birthday in March.