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 (incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math), preschoolers today can be given an early "leg-up" by learning age-appropriate math skills from as early as three.

Goals of Preschool Math

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

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

A child should be able to count from one to 10 by the time they enter kindergarten, both 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 the foundational concepts by the age of five.

With that being said, there are a number of general milestones a child should reach:

  • Two- to three-years-olds should have roughly 50 to 300 words in their vocabulary and be able to identify colors and shapes. By 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 four, the vocabulary should have expanded to around 2,000 words.

Most children will 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 of these skills.

If you are concerned about your child's progress, it is important that you speak with his or her teacher and discuss whether there is a need to screen for learning disabilities. If there is a problem, early intervention can help overcome the deficit early before it becomes a problem in the classroom.

A Word From Verywell

Preschool marks an important time in a child's development. What a child learns there can make a difference between integrating smoothly or falling back in a grade school setting. This includes math and the child's ability to respond expressively to the concepts of scale, volume, and numeric associations.

If your child appears to be struggling, don't wait to get help. Early intervention services are available in all states which offer a range of targeted programs to help children with developmental delays.

Early intervention 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 low cost.

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