Math is an area that can sometimes be a struggle when it comes to including it in a preschool curriculum. Some teachers can feel intimidated or unsure of how to provide opportunities to develop math skills in a developmentally appropriate way.
It's important to realize that math is all over the place--you don't have to do "projects" to help children gain math skills. Your engagement with the kids as they use the simplest materials can help them gain math concepts like one-to-one correspondence, sorting, and patterning. Below are some examples of incredibly simple materials that build math skills naturally through play.
The shape sorting puzzle above is a math bonanza on its own, and combined with teddy bear counters it goes even further. Children can sort both the blocks and bears by color and size; they can line them up and begin to create patterns; they can put all the red things together, or all the small things together, or create a pile of just blue and yellow, a line of alternating blue and green... The list goes on and on. See how they're working with the materials on their own, and enter their play at that level. Then as they're ready, you can begin to make suggestions, or simply model another idea to get them thinking.
Even toddler toys like the linking ducks above provide math opportunities, over and above the obvious fine motor skills involved. "Oh, it looks like you have three blue ducks in your line. Can you help me count them? 1, 2, 3. Yep! You've got three. I wonder how many yellow ducks we can add to your line?"
Adding colored bowls, plates, or even pieces of colored paper to a set of counters adds another element of math. Children might choose to sort by color into the coordinating bowl/plate/paper. They also might not--and that's fine! It's all about providing the opportunity, not doing things the "right" way. Commenting on what you see is a great way to simply make children more aware of things. "Hey, look! You put two purple animals in a purple bowl, and you put one purple animal in a yellow bowl! I wonder where you're going to put that blue animal? We have five bowls to choose from..." Using math language really does occur naturally when you involve yourself. Open-ended questions are the way to go, as it encourages thinking and language development.
What are your favorite math materials? How do you encourage math skills in a developmentally appropriate way? Comment below--I'd love to hear your ideas!
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