The Best Approaches to Early Math Instruction

Effective early math instruction is one of the main predictors of future academic success for students. However, instruction needs to go further than just the memorization of numbers and counting – young students need to be provided with opportunities to explore, and discover, math in the world around them. Because of this, we have identified several of the best approaches to early math instruction that will lead to stronger math foundations for students.

Make Math Interesting

Early childhood instructors should take every opportunity to make math interesting inside, and outside, the classroom. Instead of directing students and telling them exactly what they should be learning, bring students outside of the classroom and allow them to explore. Storytelling, roleplaying, and time in nature are all ways to foster this love of math and critical thinking in young students.

Understand Learning Paths

To practice effective math instruction, the teacher must have a deep understanding of the sequence in which mathematical ideas are learned by students. That being said, early education teachers need to be focused on the “big ideas” of mathematics – like cardinality, and one-to-one correspondence. The goal for learning shouldn’t always be a concrete and verbal output. Instead, a demonstrated understanding of an underlying concept may be more appropriate.

Develop Structured and Intentional Math Instruction

In many early childhood classrooms, we see that time isn’t dedicated to math instruction. In fact, math instruction can happen sporadically and infrequently, instead of taking place as part of a larger plan. Concepts like geometry and measurement have been shown to be the most critical in the early years of mathematical development. Because of this, instructors should focus on going in-depth in these areas with consistent experiential learning opportunities. Additionally, families should be given resources and ideas to extend this learning outside of the classroom and into the home.

Connect Math with Other Subjects and Daily Activities

Just as students practice reading and the alphabet throughout the day, mathematics should be a core focus of a young student’s day. Mathematical concepts like sorting and counting can be combined with frequent procedures, such as lining up or snack time. Additionally, mathematics can be integrated with literacy by reading a story about numbers or adding math vocabulary to spelling lists.

Leverage Students’ Natural Mathematical Abilities

Did you know that we are born with mathematical abilities? Even infants have been able to demonstrate an understanding of mathematical concepts like comparison, and toddlers are known to enjoy organizing and sorting. Leverage these natural cognitive abilities in the classroom by introducing activities that build on these skills, and challenge your students to understand what they already innately know. Additionally, observe your students’ different tolerances for frustration and use that knowledge to push students to grow in their mathematical learning.

Even though math education has not been a major focus in early childhood education, it is critically important that young learners have the opportunity to develop their mathematical skills. Therefore, early childhood educators should familiarize themselves with the mathematical concepts that are most urgent for young students to master. By expanding your knowledge of effective practices, you will ensure that your students build a strong foundation in mathematics that will benefit them throughout their K-12 years and beyond.

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