The Importance of Math in the Early Years

Early math skills are being used by children throughout their activities, experiences and daily routines, whether at school or at home. For example, becoming familiar with their routines such as brushing their teeth, getting dressed, taking a nap, and learning about going shopping with their parents can all become math learning opportunities when approached a certain way.

Math is Everywhere!

Mathematics plays a major role in a child’s development and helps children makes sense of the world around them. Children between the age of one to five years old are beginning to explore patterns and shapes, compare sizes and count objects. When it comes to preschool children, they use a variety of methods to problem-solve and talk about their findings. Math play is evident in pretend play, block play, literacy play, outdoor play and science play, for example.

Math in preschool techniques

Examples of Math Play Materials

Any of the following commonly-found items can be used as tools to help teach fundamental math skills like adding and subtracting:

  • Peg Number Boards
  • Counting Bears
  • Car Garages
  • Magnetic 2D and 3D Blocks
  • Number Tracing Sheets
  • Tangrams
  • Playdough
  • Books and Rhymes
  • Puzzles (e.g. jigsaw puzzle)

Check out 200+ free developmentally appropriate activities you can bookmark to use in the classroom. 

Role of the Adult

Parents and Educators play an important role in influencing and being a role model for children by providing opportunities for children to learn and develop new skills. Adults need to allow children to direct their own play and support them by enhancing or extending their play. Children need opportunities to:

  • Discover and create.
  • Use number concepts and skills to explore.
  • Develop confidence in their ability to think things through.
  • Solve meaningful problems.
  • Create connections to help discover relationships (e.g. characteristics).

child learning math skills with lego

Math Play: Examples from a Preschool Classroom


This category includes ordering and comparing objects to figure out time, weight, length and graphing. For example, Kyle held up his block tower and said, “this is taller than me.” James looked towards Kyle and pointed towards the block tower. “Me too, it’s taller than me,” he said as he looked up towards the top of the block tower. Kyle and James demonstrated how they could compare how tall the block tower is to each of their heights.


This category includes saying number words, writing numbers, counting, and recognizing a number of objects. For example, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,” counted Devon as he pointed towards the cars lined up on the table. “I have more than you,” he said as he pointed towards Melissa’s cars lined up. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…oh yeah,” she said as she pointed towards her cars lined up next to Devon’s cars. Devon and Melissa demonstrated counting and recognizing the number of cars they each had to compare each other’s quantities. 

Pattern and Shape

This category includes identifying or creating patterns and shapes. For example, Jeremy and Mira sat on the carpet next to one another in the block area. Jeremy placed a magnetic block together. “I’m making a house,” he said as he placed more magnetic blocks together. He took a magnetic block apart and said, “this needs to be over here,” and pointed at his magnetic blocks on the floor. Mira looked towards Jeremy’s magnetic blocks and pointed down toward her magnetic blocks. “I’m making a pizza,” she said. Jeremy and Mira created patterns and shapes with 2D magnetic blocks to build symmetrical structures.


This category includes grouping or sorting objects by characteristics. For example, Casey placed a red horse into the red bowl. She picked up a blue pig and placed the blue pig into the blue bowl. “The blue pig goes in the blue pig pen,” she said. Casey was classifying by sorting the blue and red animals into the corresponding same colored bowls.

Preschool Activities To Introduce Math and Counting

Gummy Bear Patterns Using candy or food during a math lesson can be a great way to gain a child’s interest in math. It allows them to use real world materials (candy in this case) to creating and extending patterns while practicing sorting and counting. All of these skills can easily be transferable to the classroom for circle time and worksheets!

Roll and Cover Raindrops Dice Game Roll, count, cover! It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3….4, 5, 6! Grab a game die, print out our printable, and use small rocks or beads to cover the numbers! 

Fishy, Fishy Math Fish crackers are a yummy snack, but can they be used to learn pre-math skills such as counting, grouping, and patterning? You bet! 

Counting Stars Activity Combine the love of stickers with a beautiful starry sky with our counting stars activity.

Recommended Books for Math Concepts

Counting and Numbers

Chicka Chicka 1,2,3 by Karma Wilson – This is a fun book, which gives children the opportunity to read, count and learn about numbers.

chicka chicka 123 by bill martin jr, michael sampson and lois ehlert


Pattern Bugs by Trudy Harris – This is a visual book, which uses language and illustrations to show many different patterns. This is a great book for repetition and pattern learning.

pattern bugs by trudy harris


A Pair of Socks By Stuart J.Murphy – This is a great book that teaches children about matching, specifically matching socks to one another.

a pair of socks by stuart j murphy


The Shape of My Heart by Mark Sperring – This sweet book teaches children about the many shapes found in the world.

the shape of my heart by mark sperring


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin – This book is fun and always gets the children excited. This book is about a cat named Pete who walks down the street in his new pair of white shoes, but along the way, his shoes change colors (e.g. red, blue, brown) as he steps into different things.

pete the cat: I love my white shoes by james dean

Math is an important part of learning for children in the early years because it provides vital life skills. They will help children problem solve, measure and develop their own spatial awareness, and teach them how to use and understand shapes. 

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