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Researchers Explore Ways to Embed Math Learning in Early Education

Proponents of early education talk frequently about laying a good foundation for literacy skills. But what about math?

Too often, teachers underestimate just how much math young children can learn, says Douglas H. Clements, a professor of learning and instruction at the State University of New York College at Buffalo. Mathematics is naturally embedded into the lives of young children, through things like counting and measuring games, and natural exploration of height, weight, and distance. Teachers can support such "informal" math through games, puzzles, and songs the same way literacy is supported, Clements told attendees at a recent workshop on infusing math and science into early-childhood education, sponsored by the National Science Foundation in Washington. 

In an interview after the presentation with Education Week, Clements said that teachers can see positive results just by using number words in conversation with children—for example, instead of saying "bring me those glasses," they can say "bring me those two glasses." 

Math "is not scary to kids at all," Clements said, but unfortunately, for adults, math can be. "Half of [those in] the United States think they're no good at mathematics, so we don't want these kids to do something that's unnatural or unwelcome or that may frighten them." But during children's play, "they confront and deal happily with mathematics, through counting, deal with patterns, explicitly talking about shape and transformation of shape and comparison and the like." Clements explores more of these ideas in this video:  

The NSF workshop agenda includes Powerpoint presentations that offer many more resources for early educators. An additional resource on the topic comes from the What Works Clearinghouse, which has created its own list of research-supported advice on teaching math to young children. In addition to recommendations, the WWC practice guide offers ideas on how to apply those tips in the classroom, through games and model discussions. 

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