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Numerous academic studies have determined that children’s math comprehension development is especially important during their first few years of life. In the lead up to kindergarten, a child’s understanding of basic arithmetic and other mathematic principles is also a prime indicator of overall cognitive capacity which impacts other scholastic areas such as reading, writing and basic problem solving ability.

Given the importance of early math development on student achievement, REL Central’s Early Childhood Education Research Alliance has placed an emphasis on expanding resources allocated towards this particular educational area.

Teaching mathematics along a developmental progression is recommended in the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide Teaching Math to Young Children as a strategy to support children’s learning of number and operations, geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis. Each WWC practice guide presents recommendations for educators based on reviews of research by a panel of nationally recognized experts on a particular topic or challenge.

REL Central recently developed two new videos to share information from Recommendations 1 and 2 of the aforementioned WWC practice guide. Narrated by Dr. Douglas Clements, Co-Executive Director of the Marsico Institute of Early Learning at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education, the videos highlight key actionable strategies from the guide to teach early math skills.

Children are able to recognize geometric shapes and simple mathematical patterns well before they enter pre-school; they are also able to count at a young age. This is the foundation for the developmental progression strategies outlined in the practice guide. Educators can take advantage of the IES resources available to them in order to help children lay the foundation for better comprehending the formal systems of math that they will be taught upon entering school.

As discussed in the new REL Central videos, “... a development progression model for number operations allows educators to better determine where a child’s base level begins,“ says Clements. “Once this is established it’s much easier to recognize where a student can be placed within the progression scheme and determine what steps need to be taken in order to maximize their learning potential.”

Evidence suggests that a significant number of children in the United States do not begin school with the proper foundation in mathematics required for a smooth transition into class-based learning. By adhering the sequence of learning outlined in the practice guide, adapting to formal lesson plans can be made easier for young children.

Steps in the first phase of the developmental progression include providing children with opportunities to recognize the quantity of objects in small collections, assigning number words/numerals to said collections and encouraging children to perform basic problem-solving tasks once their number operation comprehension is advanced enough.

The first phase of the developmental progression model also offers ideas for making use of everyday routines to improve children’s mathematical abilities. For example, counting the number of items on a snack or meal tray and then subtracting from that number as items are eaten to arrive at a new total gives children a more meaningful sense of the concept of arithmetic.

In addition to developing the ability to recognize a given quantity of objects without counting – AKA “subitizing” – several more progressive model recommendations are outlined in the WWC practice guide, including geometry, patterns, measurement and data analysis which is also discussed by Dr. Clements in a new REL video.

Using progress monitoring to ensure that math instruction builds on what each child knows, teaching children to view and describe their world mathematically and dedicating time each day to teaching math, and integrate math instruction throughout the school day are further recommendations made in the guide.

All of the recommended steps along the various models are accompanied by solutions to common roadblocks as well as extensive implementation details. The amount of information presented in the WWC practice guides is extensive but designed to be digestible for educators when absorbed in proper portions: “Educators should take these resources as an opportunity to guide the natural evolution of their students’ abilities and hopefully make the learning process more dynamic and successful,” says Dr. Clements.