It might seem odd to think about your preschooler exploring data analysis and algebra.
But at Primrose, those concepts are rooted in hands-on classroom activities, self-directed problem-solving and shared discussion — all designed to take full advantage of a key period in a young child’s development.
“We know you should read to your kids every day, but many people don’t realize that early math experience is also critical,” says Dr. Sandra M. Linder, an associate professor of early childhood mathematics at Clemson University.
“It predicts a child’s literacy success in kindergarten and beyond.”
Teaching must involve much more than call-and-response drills or rote memorization, says Linder, who developed the math portion of Primrose’s STEAM-focused (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) Balanced Learning curriculum.
And it can still be fun, of course.
Linder shared five ways Primrose approaches math education, and how the lessons help inspire lightbulb moments that last a lifetime:
Extending Monday’s math topic all week
The five-day sequence is known as a “learning cycle,” a teaching style often seen in K-12 math and science lesson plans but rarely in early childhood education.
For example, “a class might start out playing with different tools or scales for measuring,” Linder says, noting that children may later be given specific measurement tasks and asked to explain their findings on Friday. “We begin with play; then we engage, explore and reflect.”
Those conversations don’t end with the school day: Parents receive suggestions (via Home Learning Fun and Molly’s Math Bag) of other activities and talking points to revisit the subject at home.
Connecting with talk and shared play
rom snack time to cleaning up at the sink, even small moments can incorporate math. And there’s always opportunity to spark discussion and encourage critical thinking.
“We may ask a student, ‘Can you count to 10 while washing your hands?’” Linder says. “To teach ordinal numbers, we can talk about the steps: What do we do first, second and third?”
Teachers might see how students can evenly distribute a bowl of pretzels without touching them. Or children could sort rocks, explaining to adults what qualities make an item “big” or “small.”
Letting kids make their own conclusions
Historically, math has been one-sided. Says Linder: “We’re really good about letting kids explore in every other content area. In math, we want to tell them, step by step, what to do.”
Although it’s important to teach them the basics, children are more likely to understand math when they’re given the chance to work through concepts independently.
That, Linder says, often means “structuring everything you say to be a problem.” So instead of telling a student to set the table in a pretend kitchen, a Primrose teacher may ask how many guests are coming — and if the host has enough plates, chairs and utensils.
Encouraging creative expression
It doesn’t take textbooks and worksheets to instill knowledge at this age. The arts, believe it or not, are an effective way to teach math.
“Kids can show their understanding in a variety of ways,” Linder says. “They might represent ideas through a variety of mediums, whether it’s painting or dance or modeling clay or drawing.”
That expression could involve using paint and stamps to follow a pattern or tapping out beats to a favorite song with rhythm sticks, diversions that ultimately build deeper skill sets.
Putting math in a positive light
Unlike reading, math hasn’t always held the same pleasurable and engaging reputation. That’s a concern, as children must absorb increasingly challenging material in the years ahead.
Some studies show an interest decline begins in middle school — but Linder notes recent research has found that math malaise may creep in as early as first grade.
“Once you lose that motivation, it’s hard to get back,” Linder says. “If children enjoy math and teachers show they value math and make it fun, that makes a difference. A positive early experience is critical.”