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# Mathematics and Young Children (page 4)

By Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 23, 2010

### Number Concepts

Children’s understandings of number concepts develop rapidly during the early childhood years. While a 3-year-old often is just beginning to understand that “1” is a small number and others are larger, 5-year-olds have typically mastered basic number concepts through “9” (Murray & Mayer, 1988). During the primary years, children develop the ability to count forward and backward, skip count (counting by twos, fives, tens, etc.), and understand numbers into the hundreds (Charlesworth, 2005).

#### Counting

Much of the preschool child’s understanding of numbers comes from repeated counting experiences. Many songs and finger plays (e.g., “Five Little Speckled Frogs” and “Ten Little Monkeys”) give children enjoyable opportunities for rote counting experiences. The day-to-day life of the classroom and home provide many other meaningful opportunities to count and understand numbers. Discussing the calendar at group time, counting crackers in the snack bowl, and finding out how many ladybugs were caught on the playground are examples of these natural opportunities for counting.

It is important to remember that primary-age children often use counting as an aid in solving addition and subtraction problems. Although this strategy eventually becomes cumbersome and slow, it helps many children make the transition to more mature arithmetic skills. Using concrete materials as an aid in counting is still a necessity for many primary-age children and should be made available for those who need them.

#### Arithmetic Skills

During the primary years, children develop the ability to understand addition, subtraction, and multiplication. However, part of the problem with the traditional approach to teaching these skills is that not all children are cognitively ready to begin when the teacher starts this instruction. Some may need more counting experience first, while others should spend additional time developing basic number concepts. When the teacher uses a constructivist approach and allows children to manipulate materials and discover arithmetic understandings as they work on real-world problems, children are much more able to set their own pace and conquer this task.

### Measurement

Another important mathematical understanding to be emphasized during the early years is the ability to quantify materials in the world. Finding the height, weight, volume, and dimensions of objects are examples of measurement. Piaget’s work tells us that, until children have reached the stage of concrete operations (around age 7 or 8), they have difficulty measuring using standardized units such as inches, pounds, and liters (Flavell, 1963). Younger children, however, can learn much when given the opportunity to measure with nonstandard units.

The preschool and kindergarten child can engage in the following types of informal measurement activities:

• Use blocks to measure tables, floor space, and other elements of the classroom environment.
• Find out how many plastic cups of sand or water it takes to fill containers in the sand or water play area.
• Use a balance to compare weights of different objects.
• Trace full-body silhouettes of children and have them compare heights.

Children in the primary grades can engage in many of these same activities but with the use of standardized units of measurement. Children this age can use and understand rulers, weight scales, and one-cup containers. Measurement activities should remain meaningful and relevant to the children’s lives. To achieve this goal, consider weighing the class guinea pig, measuring the dimensions of playground equipment, and discovering how many liters of water are needed to fill the classroom sink.

### Geometry

The study of two- and three-dimensional shapes and how they are related to one another is called geometry. Although this topic is often thought of as part of the high school mathematics curriculum, it is highly applicable in the early childhood classroom. The young child’s world is filled with interesting shapes to explore and understand.

Young children develop geometric understandings from playing with materials such as unit blocks, pattern blocks, tangrams, and paper for origami. In addition, teachers can help children identify the many shapes that exist in the classroom and outdoors on the playground by casually pointing them out.