Home > Educational Neuroscience > Should Preschoolers Learn Mathematics At All?

Should Preschoolers Learn Mathematics At All?

Should there even be mathematics in preschool? Some people think that the preschool brain is not sufficiently mature to deal with number manipulation. But as we have already explained in earlier chapters, humans are born with intuitive capabilities for handling simple numerical quantities. Mathematics at the preschool level, then, should take advantage of a young child’s innate number
sense. This means that instructional activities should be deeper and broader than mere practice in counting and adding.

Clements (2001) suggests four reasons that mathematics should be taught in preschool:

  • Preschoolers already encounter curricular areas that include only a small amount of mathematics. Supplemental instruction would help make these areas more understandable.
  • Many preschoolers, especially those from low-income and minority groups, have often experienced difficulties with mathematics in their later years. This potential gap can be narrowed by including more mathematics at the preschool level.
  • Preschoolers already possess number and geometry abilities ranging from counting objects to making shapes. Children use mathematical ideas in their everyday life and can develop surprisingly sophisticated mathematical knowledge. Preschool activities should extend these abilities.
  • Recent brain research affirms that preschoolers’ brains undergo significant development, that their learning and experiences affect the structure and organization of their brains, and that their brains develop most when challenged with complex activities and not with rote skill learning.

Because the human brain is such a powerful pattern seeker, preschoolers are self-motivated to investigate shapes, measurements, the meaning of numbers, and how numbers work. Activities in preschool mathematics, therefore, should be designed to raise their intuitive number sense and pattern-recognition abilities to an explicit level of awareness. Teachers should not assume that preschoolers perceive situations, problems, or solutions the same way adults do. Clements (2001) reports how one researcher asked a student to count six marbles. Then the researcher covered the marbles, showed the student one more, and asked how many there were in total. The student responded that there was just one marble. When the researcher pointed out that he had six marbles hidden, the preschooler replied adamantly that she didn’t see six. For her, no number could exist unless there were objects to count.

Preschool teachers need to interpret what the student is thinking and doing and use these interpretations to assess what concepts the student is learning and how they can be linked to the student’s own experiences. Young students do not see the world as separate subject areas. They try to link everything together. Their play is usually their first encounter with mathematics, be it counting objects or drawing geometric designs.


Clements, D. H. (2001, January). Mathematics in the preschool. Teaching Children Mathematics, 7, 270–275.

  1. patbuoncristiani
    August 11, 2012 at 12:59 am

    Mathematics is a language that we use to describe the world. The young child is an active, energetic explorer because everything is new and exciting and there to be discovered. We can make good use of this excitement by simply using the language of mathematics to describe the things the child is discovering and experiencing. We cnnot think in any complex fashion without the langauge to express and analyse our thoughts. The development of effective thinking in any domain rests on the development of appropriate language. Language grows out of and with experience and so as the pre-schooler experiences the world we have the opportunity to give them this mathematical language as a way of describing their world.

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