Preschool is a time when children are rapidly developing and learning early literacy and math skills that will support their future learning. Children are exposed to math concepts like numbers, counting, and recognizing shapes in everyday activities and begin to form ideas about math from a very early age.
This exposure is the foundation for more advanced math concepts they’ll learn as they grow and develop. As you guide your children through number sense, comparing sizes, identifying shapes, and sorting, you give them the knowledge and reasoning to understand future subjects like algebra, geometry, and more. Preschool mathematics is critical to cognitive development. It promotes creative thinking and problem-solving, and you can keep your children on the right track through hands-on and engaging lessons.
The importance of preschool math concepts
First, it’s important to understand why these math concepts are vital for increasing children’s mathematical skills. Not only do they assist preschoolers in developing their thinking and reasoning skills, but early experiences with important math concepts can also have lasting impacts on children, particularly on their brain architecture. These math concepts help build children’s basic math foundation as cognitive abilities develop.
The neural networks that give children the power to count from one to 10 are the same as those that help them solve complex mathematical concepts later in life. Teachers can easily lay the foundation for determination, logic, and problem-solving using different math-related activities during preschool and continually reinforce basic math concepts to young learners.
Math concepts for preschoolers and activities for teachers
Below are four important math concepts that preschool teachers should prioritize and some activities that can make learning these concepts easier and more fun for children.
Recognizing numbers and counting
Number recognition, or the ability to recognize numbers by their names and how they look, is the basis for understanding more complex math skills. As children learn to identify numbers, they also learn how to write them and match them to their corresponding quantities.
In a traditional game of hopscotch, children hop through landing spaces numbered from one through 10. As they hop to each space, children should call out the number. While you can decide the final number for them, increase their engagement by allowing them to toss a small object into a space they can collect.
Hopscotch supports math skills development by allowing children to focus on counting sequences. As they hop along, they see, recognize, and name the numbers. The activity also helps with number relations, reinforcing which number follows another. Additionally, the visual representation on the ground strengthens their understanding that a number, like seven, is closer to nine than one.
Dice are an efficient tool in helping preschoolers build their number recognition skills. For this activity, you need dice, crayons, bottle top lids, and a paper printout with numbers from one to six:
- Prompt your children to toss the dice on a flat surface.
- Ask them to count the dots on the dice’s top surface and move the bottle top to the corresponding number on the piece of paper; e.g., they should move it to four on the paper printout if they counted four dots.
Counting petals in flowers
This activity allows children to explore nature while practicing their basic counting skills. You only need real (or fake) flowers for this activity. Give each child a flower and ask them to count each petal.
Counting colorful cereal is a simple preschool math activity that teaches one-to-one correspondence and doubles as a tasty treat. One-to-one correspondence is an early math skill that involves a child’s ability to count in ascending order while touching or transferring each object in a set, one by one, and only once.
Set out a bowl of colorful cereal like Froot Loops and ask your children to count each color consecutively. For example, have them count the green ones, the red ones, etc. To cater to their skill set, ration out how many pieces of cereal you place in each bowl based on the number you’d like them to count to. As their skills improve, increase the number. While this activity teaches one-to-one correspondence, it also helps with another preschool concept—color recognition.
Learning the concept of big and small
Preschoolers love to talk about how “big” they are. While they’re smaller than many people and things they interact with, they find joy in being bigger than younger siblings or a pet. Their learning and understanding of big and small are important for math readiness as it lays the foundation for understanding and comparing sizes. If a child has two small cookies and one huge one, this concept helps them realize that the latter is likely “more” than the former. It sets them up to learn the concepts of less vs. more, smaller than vs. larger than, and equal to.
Here are some activities that will help you to teach children the concept of big and small.
Read picture books about size
As you’ve experienced, storytime is a big part of preschool. Reading picture books about size is one of the best ways to teach the concept of big and small. Additionally, the frequent use of terms like “big” and “small” help increase your children’s spatial language. Not only does this help in building their math skills, but it can also strengthen their visual-spatial intelligence.
Shoe size comparison
To enhance teaching new concepts, consider using items your preschoolers see daily. Comparing shoe sizes is a quick activity that requires little setup.
Have three children volunteer to take off their shoes. Line the shoes on the floor from smallest to biggest. Identify the shoes by their owners and explain how the sizes compare. For example, you could say, “John’s shoes are smaller than Peter’s, but bigger than Matt’s.” Feel free to add your shoes to the comparison, and have your children help you identify if your shoes are smaller or bigger than the group.
Sort nature items
The next time your preschoolers play outside, ask five children to collect one leaf from different plants or trees. While you can ask them to choose big or small leaves, this can be challenging for some as they learn more about the concept. In the classroom, have your preschoolers guide you in arranging the leaves from smallest to largest. Prompt them with questions like “Is this leaf smaller or larger than this one?”
Learning shapes is a fundamental skill that helps preschoolers in math, reading, and science. It introduces them to spatial relationships and how objects move in relation to each other. Realizing that a diamond is “pointy” while an oval is “round” helps them develop their spatial language. Learning shapes allows children to identify and organize visual information, and their recognition of shapes can affect how well they recall numbers, letters, signs, and symbols.
Shapes treasure hunt
To create your shapes treasure hunt, you’ll need paper, crayons, or markers. Before starting the activity with your class, draw different shapes such as circles, triangles, and squares, on pieces of paper and tape them up in visible areas around the classroom. Then draw each of the shapes on the board.
Start the treasure hunt by asking your preschoolers to collect one of the circles, then the squares, etc. After each hunt, have the child who found a shape tape it under the corresponding one on the board. To give everyone a chance to participate, open the remaining hunts to children who have yet to collect a shape.
For the hidden shapes activity, you’ll need white crayons, watercolors, brushes, and white sheets of paper. Using the white crayon, draw different shapes on the paper, ensuring each shape takes up the entire page. Help the children to color the paper using watercolors. As the page fills with watercolors, the shape will appear. Have your children help you identify each shape.
Snacking on shapes
Snack time can also be a time to teach and reinforce shapes for preschoolers. For this activity, use a shape template or create your own.
For snack ideas, you can collect:
- Circles: Cucumber slices, round crackers, M&Ms
- Squares: Cheez-Its, chex cereal, pretzel snaps
- Rectangles: Carrot slices, vanilla wafers, graham crackers
To create triangles, diamonds, stars, and hearts, consider using food cutters to create them. Once you’re ready to begin the activity, hand out the worksheets and give each child a series of snacks in each shape. Have your preschoolers place each snack next to the corresponding shape.
Sorting is a skill that requires a child to identify items with common characteristics and group them based on their similarities. It’s a cognitive skill that develops a child’s thinking and reasoning even if they cannot verbalize why items are put together. To sort, the child has to analyze the items, reason their similarities or differences, and form groups based on their observations.
Animal sorting is a great way to introduce children to different animals based on different criteria like what they eat, where they live, or their size. You’ll need animal cards or animal toys for this activity.
Using the props, place them on a surface accessible to your preschoolers. Instruct them to sort the animals based on a particular characteristic. While having them sort through size is another reinforcement for their learning of big and small, you can also include color, number of limbs, and mobile abilities such as whether they walk, swim, or fly.
Sorting buttons is a preschool activity that requires minimal preparation but presents many benefits. You’ll need to provide a variety of buttons, large plastic containers, and smaller plastic containers.
Put a series of buttons in one large plastic container, and instruct your class to sort them by size or color into the smaller plastic containers. This reinforces their learning of size and color recognition. Sorting activities where children move and manipulate small objects also supports the development of their fine motor skills, which they need for holding pencils, using scissors, or zipping their jackets.
Sorting blocks has the same purpose as sorting buttons. While buttons limit you to size and color, adding blocks as an activity helps incorporate different shapes. Repeat the process you used for sorting buttons. Add the blocks to one container and instruct your children to separate them based on their characteristics.
Incorporate math activities into your daily lesson plans. Download our free daily lesson plan template and customize it to suit your teaching style and children's needs.
Math plays a great role in a child’s development and often helps them make sense of their surroundings. Preschool math concepts help children understand how the world is represented by numbers and is often present even before preschoolers open their first math textbook. By incorporating hands-on math activities using simple materials, you can help your children build a solid foundation for more complex concepts.