Before you start planning your next preschool math lesson, take a minute and read this…

In a recent Bam Radio interview titled, “Math Phobia; Repeat After Me, “I Am Good At Math,” the discussion centered around how to overcome “math phobia.” Often times, math phobia comes from having a lack of confidence in how to teach math or having the mindset that you are not good in math. Coming up with a math lesson that the children will enjoy and understand can be a struggle. But teaching math in preschool can and should be a fun and creative experience for you and your students. So for the moment, let’s scrap the math lesson and consider how to create a support math environment.

According to Angela Eckhoff, your best energies when building a math program is to focus on creating a “supportive math environment.” Angela goes on to explain that creating a supportive math environment begins by simply being creative. Instead of planning a math lesson, think about your environment and how you can integrate mathematical ideas, thinking, conversations, and processes into it. It may even be that the math is already there, but you just need to recognize it.

In a supportive math environment, it is okay to get the answer wrong. Instead the children are encouraged to take risks and explore math through natural, non-threatening conversations and processes. In a supportive environment, it is a good idea for the children to work with a partner or a group of peers so that they will bounce ideas off of one another. For example, the boys in the above photo are able to discuss the patterns they just made on the kites without it becoming about wrong or right. Instead the conversation is a starting point for scaffolding the children’s understanding of patterns all around the classroom.

Through play and exploration, the opportunity to scaffold math is there but you will have to exercise your skills and abilities to see the math and then foster mathematical thinking. As stated in the Bam Radio interview, it is more important to teach preschool age children “how to think” versus “what to think.” For example, in the photo above, the children are filling up cups of water. They are having to think about filling their cup half full rather than completely full. They are having to think about how to close the spout completely rather than leaving it half closed so the water doesn’t continue to flow. They are having to decide whether it is better to mix more red and less blue to make purple. They are thinking, they are taking risks, they are working with friends, they are having discussions, and they are building positive attitudes about math in the process.

Whether you are reading a fun book with your group like “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons” or exploring patterns and the counting process on the end of a kite string, you are helping children build a positive “math identity.” A child with a positive math identity comes away with the mindset that, “math is fun” and “I love math” and “I am good at math.” In preschool, we can foster a positive math identity as we seek to create a supportive math environment.

Instead of planning your next math lesson, focus your time on knowing your math categories. As you know the categories for mathematical thinking, you will be better prepared to see the math in your environment. You will be better prepared to scaffold mathematical thinking through the children’s natural experiences in play and exploration. You will be better equipped to provide creative and interesting math experiences that cover a broad range of mathematical categories such as measurement, estimating, computation, patterning, number sense, one-to-one correspondence, and the list goes on. Build your knowledge of these categories in terms of simple ways to integrate them into student’s play and exploration.

You can listen to the Bam Radio interview here: “Math Phobia; Repeat After Me, “I Am Good At Math,” and you can read a little bit more about how we explore math in my classroom here: Everyday Math Play in Preschool.