A joint statement recently issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics says that "improving early childhood math should be a national priority equal to reading." If we don't help children become just as good at mathematics as they are in reading, they are not going to be qualified for the kinds of careers that should be available to them later on. The NAEYC-NCTM position is that high-quality, developmentally appropriate mathematics education for children ages 3 through 6 is vital and that significant changes are needed in both curriculum and pedagogy in early childhood settings in the United States. We have good research-based curricula resources. But more time, energy, and commitment are needed to put those things into practice. Why do it?

Kids show a spontaneous interest in mathematics. As an earlier report, Eager to Learn, indicates, good early education meets children's intellectual needs, including the need for mathematical activity In addition, we must not ignore the many math-literacy connections. Consider the classification and patterning of stories and words and the concepts of order and quantification. To achieve high-quality mathematics education, we should enhance children's natural interest in mathematics and their disposition to use it to make sense of their physical and social world.

We must be sure to base mathematics curriculum and teaching practices on the overall development of each child. Include all children in processes essential to math and encourage them to express their mathematical ideas and engage in problem solving.

Here's an example that involves counting and play. When Abby Rose, our daughter was 3, we brought her home five little trains. And she walked in one day with three of them. I said, "Oh, you've got your trains." "Yeah. I'm playing with the trains." "Where are the other ones?" "They're in the other room." "How many are you missing?" "One, two, three, four, five. I'm missing four and five." I said, "Then you're missing two." She replied, "Yes, but not four and five. This is one and three and five. I'm missing two and four" There was no reason for her to do that, except to play with her knowledge of mathematical sequence.

Surface-level skills alone is not going to help children with mathematics. Allow ample time for play so that children can freely explore and manipulate mathematical ideas. Continually assess children's mathematical knowledge, skills, and strategies, in order to inform teaching.

Beyond the classroom, we need to urge policy makers to advocate for more effective early childhood teacher preparation, and use collaborative processes to develop well-aligned systems of high-quality standards, curriculum, and assessment. In the NAEYC-NCTM position statement, we say that interventions have to include parents. Parents need to be given suggestions for things they can do to encourage math thinking. And it's evident that we need to focus professional development around innovative classroom materials.

In mathematics, we often teach children the rules without engaging them in mathematical thought. Suppose we spent 13 years teaching people grammar and spelling and never had them read a book! I believe that math is a civil right.