Equity and Early Math Experiences: Equity-Based Instructional Practices in an Early Math Curriculum for Toddlers and Preschoolers
The learning that happens before school entry provides children with a strong foundation on which to build new conceptual understandings. In particular, mathematical skills predict later math and reading outcomes in elementary school. This article summarizes existing research on equity-based math instructional approaches and provides a rationale for translating and applying 10 of these teaching practices to toddler/preschool early learning settings.
While traditionally math instruction has begun in kindergarten, all learning—including the development of math knowledge—begins at birth. Age-appropriate early learning experiences offer children the opportunity to build foundational skills that predict their academic performance into elementary school (Duncan, et al., 2007; Watts et al., 2018). For young children, this important learning must happen through play and exploration, and through activities that engage their curiosity and drive to understand the world around them. Taking a joyful and playbased approach to learning yields dividends: research shows that the more curious children are prior to school entry, the better they do academically in reading and math once they enter school (Shah et al., 2018).
The learning that happens before school entry provides children with a strong foundation on which to build new conceptual understandings. Early mathematics skills, in particular, have strong predictive power for both math and reading outcomes in elementary school (Duncan et al., 2007). A longitudinal study that followed 4-year-olds through elementary school found that preschool math skills (specifically, nonsymbolic quantity, counting, and patterning knowledge) predicted fifth-grade mathematics achievement (Rittle-Johnson et al., 2016). These and other studies are often used to argue for the importance of early mathematics in early childhood education and care settings (ten Braak et al., 2022). In short, early advantages pay dividends. Critical math learning is happening in the years prior to kindergarten entry—but only if children have access to the rich learning experiences that promote exploration and mastery.
In 2021–2022, ZERO TO THREE received funding support to develop an age-appropriate, play-based early math curriculum. Problem Solvers, released in September 2022, is a free, downloadable set of 22 early math activities and songs, designed to support emerging math knowledge across six domains of math for children from 2.5 through 4 years old. This curriculum resource is available free of charge, as one of ZERO TO THREE’s goals was to support those community-based early education programs that may otherwise be unable to acquire research-based math curricula. This article explores the ways in which equity issues are central to how, and how often, mathematics is part of early education experiences and outlines the equity-centered principles the curriculum authors used in developing Problem Solvers.
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