Math Conversations with Preschoolers

How do you begin a conversation about math with a preschooler beyond singing the Ants Go Marching Two by Two?

Introducing young children to math at home does not have to be complicated, but it can go beyond simple counting songs or fingerplays. Young children are naturally curious about math. Numbers, geometry, and patterns are easy to incorporate into a preschool life, and so are math conversations with preschoolers. Even a walk around the neighborhood can be an opportunity to talk about math. Count dogs. Talk about how one dog counts as one no matter the size. Later you can categorize the dogs or count several categories of animals. Ask open ended questions. 

Geometry and patterns are also easy to incorporate. Name shapes as you walk or read books. Talk about how shape names do not change even if a shape is a different direction. Cut a few shapes out of paper and let your child arrange them to make pictures or create patterns. Tangrams are also a fun way to play with shapes and patterns at any age! I have been known to set out Tangrams and other shape puzzles at multigenerational family gatherings just because it’s fun to watch people explore them together or to see one generation teach something to another.

Teach young children to view and describe their world mathematically in your everyday life. Extend conversations with words like “more” or “less” or “older” or “younger.” Ask open ended questions like “how can we find out how many dog treats we need?” and allow time to think and describe their thinking. Extend that conversation by asking “how many more would we need if we shared with Kimmie’s dog, too?” Allow wait time. Some children need more time to think mathematically and to describe their thinking. Recognize that your own feelings about math may shape your child’s view.

Finally, link familiar concepts to math thinking and then to correct terms. Math progression can be as easy as talking about the world around you or the meal in front of you. Start with what your child knows and then go just a little outside of that. If your child can count to three, can they recognize groups of 3 without counting? What does one more look like? (Look, now you are subitizing!) Don’t structure every minute of a child’s life with formal instruction, but do make math conversations a natural part of life. Capitalize on a young child’s curiosity with math. Whining while waiting in the grocery store line or for a meal in a restaurant can be turning into a math conversation when you try to spot shapes or see what is the same size as your hand. This is good advice for either the parent OR the child! Put down that smartphone and have a math conversation. You do not need any extra training, just start talking. 

Table Talk: How do your own feelings about math shape your student’s or child’s view? What items around you are the same size as your hand? What items are bigger than your hand? What does subitizing mean?

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