What Early Math Topics Are Important for Children to Know and Why?

Preparing professionals to support family math is key to having families start and continue to engage in math learning together.

What comes to mind when you think of young children learning math? Many people think about counting or identifying shapes. They less often think of the types of data collection children can learn while helping with laundry, the spatial reasoning involved in puzzle play, or the measurement skills that can be developed by comparing the sizes of objects around the house. But these are all critical aspects of early math learning, and there is so much more. 

Build Math Knowledge and Confidence

We created a set of brief articles summarizing early math concepts that are key to young children’s math development. These eight math topics prepare children for later learning in school:

The articles center around four questions: 

  • What is the math concept?
  • Why is learning the concept important for children’s math development?
  • What do children need to know about the concept?
  • How can families support children in developing the skills related to the concept? 

The articles offer ideas for exploring and talking about the specific math concept in common family routines. In addition, every article provides examples of family math activities that support learning in that math concept. One set of activities is geared around babies and toddlers and one set is for preschoolers and older children.

For example, to build children’s understanding of addition and subtraction, families can practice figuring out how many toys or spoons there are after one is added or taken away. To support pattern skills, caregivers and children can sing songs, make rhymes, and dance during playtime and chores.

Skim and Share the Articles

The patterns article lists common repetitions that make patterns.

Every article is one page and features an illustration of the math topic. The articles are also available in Spanish to help make connections with families. 

The articles are designed to boost or refresh knowledge about early math topics. They could be used as part of professional development courses and texted or emailed to colleagues. 

While the articles are geared toward professionals who work with families, parents and caregivers who want to learn more about math can also enjoy and benefit from the articles. The brief design is ideal for sharing with caregivers at meetings and workshops or including them with other math activities for families to do at home.

Preparing professionals to support family math is key to having families start and continue to engage in math learning together. Our goal is for professionals who work with families—and for families themselves—to see themselves as capable of playing a role in children’s math development. When professionals have the resources to explain and promote family math, their enthusiasm and comfort can transfer to families and deepen math learning.

About the Authors

Sara Schnitzer works at Boston College and is an affiliate of the DREME Network.

Eric Dearing is Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.