It’s no secret that there isn’t enough research that focuses on Preschool Math. Some researchers even argue that Preschool just isn’t the place for Math in an attempt to justify this glaring deficit. Few researchers who do focus on math in preschool have pointed out several factors that suggest that not only is Math necessary in preschool, it’s so natural, that a preschool without it is inconceivable.
Children think in mathematical terms from a very young age. If you’ve seen children attempting to ‘share’ their chocolates (and the fights that sometimes ensue), you will realise that children understand the concept of more or less without it being explicitly taught to them. The same applies with sequencing and other basic mathematical concepts. Children don’t need to be explicitly taught these concepts to understand them. They happen naturally, but they are always tied to concrete objects that children can engage with.
Studies have shown that language plays a role in the understanding of number names if the language of instruction and mother tongue are different. For preschool children it would be helpful for teachers to use number names in the language the child is most comfortable speaking in. Not only will this help the child absorb the information quicker, there will be many opportunities for this concept to be reinforced as the child hears the same numbers at home or when in a supermarket, clothing store, etc. Once the child has understood the concept of number names and what they signify, she/he can be gradually introduced to the number names in English
Teachers need to ensure that math happens in the most natural manner possible. This is made easier by the fact that children love to count. They may not know the correct sequence of numbers, but they will still try to count everything, often giving a made up names like ‘eleven teen’ if they are not sure of the number. Teachers are encouraged to let the child count, regardless of whether or not it is in sequence, as this helps the child understand that each quantity has a name. Their counting will gradually become more accurate as they master the sequence of numbers.
Pretend shopping is another great way to help the child get more familiar with using numbers. Paper money can pique a child’s interest and ensure he and his friends spend a lot of time in number centred conversations. Most children have been out shopping and know what is meant by the ‘price’ of something or how much something ‘costs’. They also know about paying for items and giving and receiving change. The numbers used may not reflect real practical amounts but once again this pseudo life experience will help children understand the concept of numbers as well as their use in daily life.
The teacher can do much to ensure that Math is always on the child’s mind. From pointing out shapes that the child has drawn or commenting on the height of something the child has built, teachers need to pepper their vocal observations with a healthy dose of math vocabulary. This will help the children learn the same and use these words in their own description and understanding of what they are doing.
The basic idea is to refrain from explicitly teaching the child math concepts that they will understand better as they engage with the environment. Rather, subtle inputs in the form of observations will gradually add to the child’s understanding of math concepts and vocabulary and help him/her retain these concepts for a long time to come.