High-Quality Early Math Activities for Preschool Center Time

DREME Preschool Math Center Activities are easy for teachers to set up and fun for children to do. The activities build math and executive function skills and promote student engagement and peer collaboration.

Key Points
  • DREME created a set of Preschool Math Center Activities that are easy for teachers to set up and fun for children to do.
  • The activities build math and executive function (EF) skills and promote student engagement and peer collaboration.
  • Developed with and for preschool teachers, the activities require low to moderate teacher involvement and use common classroom materials.

The DREME Math+ project aims to provide young children with rich and frequent opportunities to develop math skills in preschool and daycare. Our team of DREME Network members and affiliates have drawn upon research, our own experiences, and feedback from teachers to create materials for teachers to support preschool children’s math learning. Our goal is to help teachers create high-quality classroom math learning opportunities that are easy to set up, fun to do, and effective in building math understanding.

Math and Executive Function Skills Are Connected

We focus on activities and practices that promote children’s math and executive function (EF)skills at the same time. EF skills include the ability to follow instructions to complete a task, stay focused despite distractions, and successfully switch between tasks. EF skills begin to develop in early childhood, and we continue to use them throughout life. Research shows that increasing math learning opportunities in classrooms can help develop EF skills. EF skills support problem-solving, which in turn supports the development of math skills. Both EF and math skills are linked to a wide range of important academic outcomes. 

Why Classroom Center Time?

Center time is a great opportunity to introduce activities that promote math and EF skills, but children are not often engaging with materials in centers in mathematical ways. To that end, DREME researchers from Vanderbilt University and Boston College specifically designed a set of activities that support the development of preschool children’s math and EF skills during center time. Explore the DREME Preschool Math Center Activities.

Developed with teachers and for teachers of early childhood classrooms, the activities allow children to engage in high-quality math learning during times when the teacher must move around the room more freely. We’re grateful to our collaborating teachers in Nashville and Boston who implemented the math center activities with their students and provided feedback that strengthened the resources.

Each activity takes about five minutes to set up. All use common materials found in preschool classrooms or can be done with our free printables. After teachers demonstrate the activity, students can practice independently or while working in groups of 2-3 children with low to moderate teacher engagement.

Modify to Meet Children’s Skills and Interests

The activities are organized by math content areas. Every activity includes conversation starters to deepen children’s learning and make connections across different math topics. For example, in the activity Creating Copies, which focuses on spatial relations, students can explore the concept of relative position by discussing questions like, “What block is below the triangle at the top of the building?” They can dig into shape composition with prompts such as, “If you put those triangles together, what shape does it make?”

The activities are designed to be done multiple times throughout the school year. We offer ideas for making activities easier or harder based on children’s skill levels, and for adding variety to keep children interested. Some activities offer imaginative themes, such as animal migration in Follow the Path and castle construction in Build Together. Other activities, like Comparing Sets, have tips for building peer collaboration.

These activities are the starting point. Teachers can use our activities to create their own modifications and conversation starters. We would love to hear how you used and changed the activities to meet your students’ interests and skills—share at contactdreme@stanford.edu.  

We’re adding more resources for teachers to develop children’s math and EF skills, so check the site often for updates!

Explore the DREME Preschool Math Center Activities

About the Authors

Kelley Durkin is a Research Assistant Professor at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.

Dale C. Farran is an Emerita Professor at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.