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New 'What Works' Guide Focuses on Teaching Math to Young Children

Despite young children's natural interest in mathematics, teaching the subject to young children remains an understandable challenge. A new practice guide addresses this issue, providing a series of "evidence-based recommendations" to help guide the teaching of children ages 3 to 6.

The latest What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide, Teaching Math to Young Children, was funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Educators and other experts in the field created a list of five recommendations using a combination of evidence-based research and professional guidance on best practices for teaching math in preschool, prekindergarten, and kindergarten settings. They include:

  1. Teach number and operations using a developmental progression;
  2. Teach geometry, patterns, measurement, and data analysis using a developmental progression;
  3. Use progress monitoring to ensure that math instruction builds on what each child knows;
  4. Teach children to view and describe their world mathematically; and
  5. Dedicate time each day to teaching math, and integrate math instruction throughout the school day.

According to the publication, the recommendations are "designed to capitalize on children's natural interest in math to make their preschool and school experience more engaging and beneficial." 

Each recommendation includes with it an overview of the supporting evidence. The publication labels the strength of the evidence as "strong," "moderate," or "minimal." These labels are based on a variety of factors, including validity, effects on outcomes, the strength of the relationship between the evidence and recommendations, and the panel's confidence in the effectiveness of the practice. Of the five recommendations listed above, it's worth noting that none received the "strong" label, and only one (the first item) got a "moderate" label.

Step-by-step instructions are included for carrying out each of the recommendations. The guide also identifies potential roadblocks and ways to overcome such obstacles.

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