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Making Math a Part of Everyday Preschool Routines

Jun 05, 2024    |   Math & Numeracy

A preschooler’s day is filled with opportunities to play and learn with numbers! From morning meetings to outdoor playtime, there are so many ways to help young children explore and build confidence in their understanding of math concepts. In fact, math and numbers fit so naturally into everyday activities that educators often introduce simple math concepts to young children without even realizing it!  

Familiarity with numbers and measurement is a foundational learning skill for young children. In this article we share ideas for incorporating numbers and math into your daily play and learning routines, and highlight the many benefits this has for the little ones in your care.  

Benefits of Early Mathematical Exploration

Developing a foundational understanding of mathematical principles and concepts is an important part of preschool and early childhood education. Having a basic understanding of numbers, counting, patterns, and shapes helps set children up for success when they transition into elementary school. 

An article from Mathnasium explains the importance of early Math learning: “Math is an essential subject in early childhood education that provides numerous benefits to young children. It fosters critical thinking skills, helps to grow their problem-solving abilities, and promotes a better understanding of the world around them…When they practice math, children don’t just learn educational skills that can only be applied to paper – they learn facts about the world and the boundaries therein.” 

Making Math Relevant and Meaningful

Children often use concepts like size, shape, and comparison to describe the things they observe. We can encourage children to practice these foundational math skills by making counting, measuring, and patterns part of our everyday conversations with the little learners in our care. Encountering math concepts in their daily routines offers children exciting new ways to think and engage. 

Young children have a natural sense of curiosity, and the use of numbers and math concepts helps children explore and understand the topics that interest them. A joint position statement on early math learning from NAEYC and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics describes the ways that young children use math: “Young children show a natural interest in and enjoyment of mathematics. Research evidence indicates that long before entering school children spontaneously explore and use mathematics…and their mathematical knowledge can be quite complex and sophisticated. In play and daily activities, children often explore mathematical ideas and processes; for example, they sort and classify, compare quantities, and notice shapes and patterns.” 

Incorporating Math into Your Classroom’s Daily Routines 

As early care & learning providers, we can make math fun and relevant to little learners by incorporating it into preschool routines and activities. Below are some simple ideas for using math and numbers to enrich any part of the preschool day.

Create Opportunities for Comparison

Children find math concepts like comparison and measurement particularly engaging, because it helps them understand and describe the things they see when they play and explore. An article from the math-focused early childhood organization, DREME, explains, “Young children apply early concepts of measurement in many of their everyday activities…In exploring ways of comparing, they may use non-standard measurement tools such as hands and fingers to estimate length, blocks or squares for area, and sand and water for capacity. They also begin to develop the vocabulary of measurement and comparison, using terms such as longer, shorter, taller, bigger, smaller, wider, heavier, and lighter.” 

You can incorporate these concepts into outdoor play by talking with children about which of the trees they see is the tallest tree, or by inviting them to compare the length or size of the leaves and rocks they find. Toys, balls, books and other items in indoor and outdoor play areas can also be compared by size and weight, using words like wider, lighter, and shorter. 

Point out Shapes

There are shapes all around us! Whether children are playing with blocks, reading a book, or eating a snack, there are opportunities to discover and practice identifying different shapes. For example, you can point out that the watermelon that the children are enjoying during snack time has been cut into triangles, or you might comment that the rugs in your room are shaped like circles. As children get more comfortable with basic shapes, you can introduce conversations about 3-D items, like the spheres and cylinders children use when they play with a ball or drink from a water bottle. 

Practice Counting

There are many simple ways to incorporate counting into your daily routines with the children in your care, such as counting each child as they sit down for circle time, or counting how many steps it takes to get from one place to another. You can also model counting for children, by saying things like “I’m going to put six blueberries on each person’s plate. Listen as I count them – one, two, three, four, five, six. Let’s count the blueberries together!” This can be especially helpful for younger children or for children who are less comfortable reciting numbers. 

When we invite children to join us as we count the items we see in our early learning environment, we help them understand that every number represents a specific quantity of objects. This also helps children become more comfortable remembering numbers and comparing quantities, and prepares them to explore basic addition and subtraction. 

Additional Resources

If you are looking for more ideas for incorporating math into your classroom’s everyday routines, you might enjoy the following resources: 

  • Math Moments. This article from DREME features an extensive list of simple ideas for adding moments of math learning into early learning programs.
  • 8 Easy Ideas to Add Math Into Your Daily Routine. This PBS Kids article is geared towards parents, but it includes a lot of great ideas that early learning professionals can use in their ECE programs, such as going on a shape hunt and charting the weather.
  • Play With Measurement. This article from Tinkergarten shares a variety of playful experiences that engage children in activities using measurement.
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