Early math is just as important as early literacy!

Early math is just as important as early literacy!

Early math is just as important as early literacy!

Early math is just as important as early literacy!

Research suggests early math skills are a better predictor of academic success than early reading skills.

Despite this, although we have embraced early literacy, the same does not hold true for early math. Did you know, American preschools and kindergartens spend on average 58 seconds a day on math! Not only that but children are also often taught to memorize rather than understand the concepts of math. We are under the impression that children can tackle math later, yet research clearly shows that exposure to math is crucial for academic success. Perhaps this is why so many of us struggle with mathematics. 

Babies and Math?

A study published in the Journal of Psychological and Cognitive Sciences played between 4 and 12 syllables to infants between one and four days old. Then they showed them pictures of either 4 or 12 colorful shapes with smiley faces. Guess what? The babies fixated on the number of shapes corresponding to the number of sounds they had heard twice as long.1

Furthermore, evidence suggests that 6-month-old babies have innate addition and subtraction ability. In a study by the University of Arizona, 5-month-old babies were shown one doll and then watched a screen placed in front of it. The scientists then put a second doll behind the screen and removed the screen. Researchers could tell the babies expected to see two dolls. However, when researchers removed a doll or added extra ones without the baby seeing, the babies stared longer because the results “were a violation of expectation”!2

It is not unique to humans; animals too possess this trait. Guppies can discern between ratios, and lemurs can learn numerical rules.

Counting through memorization.

The typical approach to math in young children is to memorize number sequences. Learning to count by memorization teaches children number words and order, but it does not teach them number sense any more than singing the letters L-M-N-O-P in the alphabet song teaches phonemic awareness.3 

Milestones in math

One-to-one correspondence. It is understanding the actual value of each number rather than rattling off memorized sequences. This starts around two and a half to three years and builds. To see where your little one is with this milestone, hold up one finger and ask her to count, then two fingers, then three. Usually, kids will count to 2 or 3 and then say “lots” or “all of them.” Once you have completed this step, you know where they are in their comprehension.

Subitize – being able to identify the quantity quickly without counting individually. For example, if you show a set of four things, you know they are four without counting. Subitizing is an excellent skill for little ones to learn and usually builds between 3 and 4 years old.

Tips to help with math apprehension

  1. Singing. Singing lots of songs that involve math (addition and subtraction) – I have included a list of suggested songs at the bottom of the article. This is a great way to help little ones associate number representation with quantity
  2. Count everything in their environment. Make it a daily habit to involve math as much as literacy.
  3. Use something familiar and meaningful. For example, count as you place the snack pieces onto the plate at snack time. One apple slice, add one, two apple slices, add one, three. Say it aloud. When they eat one piece, say, how many are left. This helps children connect numbers representation with the dynamic nature of numbers rather than memorizing number sequences.
  4. Use their finger. Encourage them to use their finger as much as possible to count. Younger children tend to trail off when counting a set number. For example, when they count five apple slices, they may start counting and then at 5, say 6, 7, 8. Hold their finger and count with them or ask them to point as they count.
  5. Count from a number. Once they get the hang of counting. Ask them to count from 3 or 5. This is much harder for little ones to grasp than you may think. It completely throws them but helps them move away from sequence memorization and towards understanding what numbers represent.
  6. What is missing? Ask them what is missing in the sequence of numbers. For example, say 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8. This is a more advanced activity (four years old) – but keep practicing!
  7. What is the odd one out? Having things of different sizes, colors, types are a great way to develop their scientific curiosity. If they tell you an answer different from what you think, ask them why. Their answer may make a lot of sense. For example, you may have lime, an avocado, and lemon. You ask them the odd one out. They may say the lemon because it is yellow, and the others are green. They may say avocado because lemon and lime are sour. They may say lime because lemon and avocado are similar sizes. All answers are correct and demonstrate the creativity of young minds.
  8. Have fun. Don’t pressure little ones to learn math. Make sure you continue to learn math through play!

Number Songs:

Ten little monkeys

10 in the bed

Five speckled frogs

1, 2 buckle my shoe

One potato, two potato

Hickory Dickory dock

Ants go marching 


  1. Izard, V., Sann, C., Spelke, E.S. and Streri, A. (2009). Newborn infants perceive abstract numbers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, [online] 106(25), pp.10382–10385.
  2. Wynn, K. (1992). Addition and Subtraction by Human Infants. Nature. 358(6389):749-50
  3. Hank Pellissier (2015) Why early math is just as important as early reading. Great Schools. Retrieved 25th March 2022 from, https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/early-math-equals-future-success/




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