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Teaching Kindergarten and Preschool Math

How to teach math...

Teaching kindergarten and preschool math concepts requires much more than handing children math workbooks or worksheets.

Children need to have math experiences that incorporate their senses, that require them to experiment and make observations, and that allow them time to investigate a topic further.

Children learning kindergarten and preschool math need to assimilate concepts at their own rate. They frequently return to former tasks to try and solve them in new ways.

How do children learn math?

1. With concrete materials

teaching kindergarten and preschool math with real things- playdoh and straws

Children need concrete objects - real stuff, manipulatives, materials, such as blocks, counters, popsicle sticks, in order to make sense of new math concepts or abstract ideas. Read, "Teaching with manipulatives", for easy  steps on how to do this.

Only after children have had ample opportunities to learn a new concept with real objects are they ready to connect their learning to abstract symbols such as numbers and math symbols (34, 22, +, -).

2. With plenty of time

Children need plenty of time to play with math materials before they use them for teacher guided math activities.

3. With a meaningful vocabulary

Children need to link math to their everyday experiences. Math games and activities are good opportunities to build math vocabulary. They need vocabulary to express their mathematical experiences. For more information read, "Helping children build a math vocabulary".

Sample: Teach a kindergarten and preschool measurement lesson

1. Explore Materials

Always give a child a couple of weeks to play with the concrete objects that you are planning to teach with, in this case, wooden blocks. Children need to explore the materials before they are ready to pay attention when using them in a structured activity.
measurement activities

2. Demonstrate

Demonstrate what you would like the child to do. Keep in mind that the students are just getting used to the idea that things can be measured (don't worry about accuracy yet).

  • Choose a pile of identical blocks and a book.
  • Line the blocks up against the book; then count the blocks.
  • Say, "My book is 4 blue blocks long."
  • Repeat this process a few times.
  • Point out where the first block starts and the last block ends. (Blocks will not be the exact length of the book)
  • Talk about why you need to use identical blocks.
  • Have the children choose a book and identical blocks and try to measure their books.
  • Next math period, children pay more attention to accuracy, where their blocks are starting and ending. Use vocabulary such as half a block and middle of the block.

3. Model measuring and recording results

When the children are successful at measuring, model measuring an object and then recording the results with a picture.

After the children have recorded their math results as a group on a large paper and they understand the connection between the actual activity and the recorded results, have them repeat the measurement activity by themselves and record their own learning.

Provide teacher made recording sheets or have children create their own. Now the children begin to connect their concrete learning to abstract symbols, known as the representational, connecting or picture stage.

4. Abstract symbols

Only after the above connections have been made are children ready to use abstract symbols only. Every new math concept needs to be taught using the concrete and connective (pictorial, representational) steps before children are ready for abstract symbols.

Click for more measurement activities...


Math Teaching Tips

  • When teaching kindergarten and preschool math start with shorter periods of structured activities and increase when the group is ready.
  • Change groups frequently as children learn from and gather ideas and vocabulary from each other.
  • When children lose interest, change the materials and tasks slightly.
  • Small groups of ten children work well for kindergarten math structured activities. The other children can be doing unstructured free exploration with other math equipment at this time.
  • You will need to train kindergarten and preschool children to care for classroom materials during the first month of school and with each new set of objects you add to the classroom.
  • Don't put all the math materials out at once.

How to teach math pages:

Page 1: How do kids learn math?
Page 2: What to teach...
Page 3: Teach math vocabulary...
Page 4: Math vocabulary activities..

Get your free copy of Making Friends One Day at a Time student pages!
Go to Kindergarten-Lessons News to get your FREE printable student book, "Making Friends One Day at a Time".

Try these 10 popular math manipulatives...

super duper manipulatives

These are my favorites. They are durable and can be used to teach more than one concept.