Preparing to Teach Mathematical Operations to Young Children

An overview of resources that prepare teachers to develop children’s knowledge of mathematical operations.

Children begin to understand numbers and quantity from a young age. More is one of the first words that children learn, generally long before learning less or fewer. Children notice that adding things to a set makes more and taking away from a set makes less of that thing. After all, who wants fewer snacks?

Addition and subtraction problems are a natural part of children’s everyday life. When engaged in questions about mathematical operations, children practice joining, separating, comparing, and thinking about the parts and wholes of sets. Eventually, children start using the counting words to think about mathematical operations and describe their results. It’s important to remember that children don’t think of these problems as addition or subtraction, or as more or less difficult. They just think of them as problems that need to be solved.

Build Confidence in Teaching Mathematical Operations

Supporting children’s math development requires a combination of rich math environments, engaging conversations, and opportunities for children to engage in meaningful activities that require problem solving. DREME developed a robust set of professional development resources for teacher educators to use with teachers as they promote early math skill development.

This blog provides an overview of resources that prepare teachers to grow children’s knowledge of mathematical operations. We drew upon research and our own experiences as teacher educators to help teachers design math learning opportunities around mathematical operations that are intentional, developmentally appropriate, engaging, and playful.

Why and What of Operations: Why engaging with operations is crucial for children’s early math learning.

Mathematics of Operations: Different approaches to analyzing and explaining the important math underlying operations.

The Development of Children’s Operations: Videos of children practicing math, activities for teachers, and readings that explore how children develop operations skills.

Assessing Operations: Guidance about assessment approaches so that teachers can identify what children know about operations.

Supporting Classroom Practice: Ideas for teachers to develop their own classroom practices that engage young children in operations.

Vignettes: Fictionalized but very real examples about what it’s like to teach and learn to teach operations.

Getting Started: Inspiration to use these resources flexibly, with varied settings, amounts of time, and participants.

Resources to Support Early Math Teacher Educators

The DREME Teacher Educator website houses a trove of free early math teaching and learning resources, including videos, hands-on activities, handouts, and articles. The resources are flexible and easy to use in a variety of settings, from a professional development workshop to an entire preservice course in teaching math to young children.

The website is organized into modules addressing early math content areas, plus an Overview section:

We recognize that children come to school with diverse experiences and math-related knowledge that teachers can harness. Our resources focus on developing the ability of teachers to promote deep mathematical understanding in all children. 

About the Author

The DREME Teacher Educator project offers free, research-based support for prospective and practicing teachers to promote young children’s math learning.