Teaching Math to Preschoolers

How to Help Your Child Reach the Expected Milestones

girl using abacus

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Just because a child is too young for grade school doesn't mean that he or she won't benefit from a structured preschool math program. Preschool children are incredibly inquisitive and more than able to grasp the basic principles of math through play activities and structured learning.

With an increasing number of elementary and secondary schools embracing on a STEM-based approach to education that incorporates science, technology, engineering, and math, preschoolers can get a"leg-up" by learning age-appropriate math skills from as early as three years of age.

Goals of Preschool Math

Before entering kindergarten, children who have attended a quality early-education program should be able to understand the following concepts:

  • Numbers represent an amount of objects
  • Numbers can be expressed as spoken words, written words, and written symbols
  • You can add and take away from amounts
  • Amounts can be expressed as "none," "more," "less," "smaller," "smallest," "bigger," and "biggest"
  • Objects can be defined by size as well as their shape and color

By the time they enter kindergarten a child should be able to count from one to 10 by (forward and backward) and be able to follow simple instructions such as, "Show me the one red square," or "Take away one blue crayon."

Preschool Math Milestones

Preschool children don't learn at the same rate or pace. It is no different than how some adults master skills faster or slower than others. As a parent, you shouldn't stress if your preschooler doesn't count as well as other children.

With the use of the right tools and encouragement, most children should have a firm grasp of math's foundational concepts by the age of five.

There are also some general milestones a child should reach by this age, including:

  • Two- to three-years-olds should have roughly 50 to 300 words in their vocabulary and be able to identify colors and shapes.
  • By age three, a child should be able to count to five.
  • Four-year-olds should be able to count up to 10 and identify shapes, colors, and sizes by name.
  • By age four, a child's vocabulary should have expanded to around 2,000 words.

Most children demonstrate their learning receptively (taking words and translating them into meaning) before they can respond expressively (communicating to either make something happen or make something stop).

As a child's cognition develops, there will be an increase in the speed and breadth of both their receptive and expressive skills.

If you are concerned about your child's progress, ask their teacher or pediatrician if they need to be screened for learning disabilities. Early intervention can help your child overcome deficits before they interfere with their experience in the classroom.

A Word From Verywell

Preschool marks an important time in a child's development. What a child learns during this period can be the difference between integrating smoothly or falling back in the grade school setting.

Foundational math knowledge—including the ability to respond expressively to the concepts of scale, volume, and numeric associations—is one of the most important skill sets a child needs to master by the time they enter grade school.

If your child appears to be struggling, don't wait to get help. Early intervention services offer a range of targeted programs to help children with developmental delays, which can make all the difference if they are struggling at school.

These services are provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Through state-managed grants from the federal government, children who qualify may receive services free of charge or at a low cost. Work with your child's school or pediatrician's office to find out what specific programs and services are appropriate for your child and available in your state.

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  2. Nemours Foundation. Communication and Your 2- to 3-Year Old. Updated June 2019.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Developmental Milestones: 3 to 4 Year Olds. Updated November 2, 2009.

  4. Nemours Foundation. Communication and Your 4- to 5-Year Old. Updated June 2019.

  5. Rose SA, Feldman JF, Jankowski JJ. A Cognitive Approach to the Development of Early LanguageChild Dev. 2009;80(1):134-150. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01250.x