One of the biggest hurdles for educators to jump over is the limitation of the young, developing human brain. Certain concepts are simply beyond the ability of young students to grasp. However, when it comes to math, some teachers believe that underestimating the capabilities of young children might be a grave mistake.
Math is not always included in preschool programs, with many programs believing that 4 and 5 year olds cannot understand the concepts that numbers represent. Largely this is due to outdated research.
An example would be the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget. In the mid 20th century, Piaget found that children could be fooled to believe the number of objects in a row had increased if he spread the objects out to make the row longer.
While Piaget made many fantastic contributions to the field of psychology and to the way we teach children, new research has begun to show that his work was not the final say in early childhood education.
New studies have found that if experimenters explain the problems simply to children and use objects that better engage the children like toys or candy, that children as young as 4 and 5 can grasp the concept of numbers.
Kristin Alfonzo, a preschool teacher in Seattle, has had quite a bit of success using numbers in her classroom. She uses two rows of pipe cleaners strung with beads to help kids learn to count and to understand the different ways numbers can be added together.
Her methods have paid off. 95 percent of the kindergartners at her school, South Shore PreK-8 have arrived at elementary school with the basic knowledge needed to understand elementary school math. Not only is that the highest rate in her district, it is 42 percent above the state average.
South Shore is not alone, with other districts like Boston Public Schools starting to teach math to preschoolers and seeing results. In Boston, third grade math scores are rising as a direct result of changes in the preschool curriculum.
Researchers are still seeking to understand how and why young children are able to understand these mathematical concepts, but have found that teaching math to preschoolers and kindergartners has a positive impact on not only math but also reading scores. Updating preschool programs across the country could very well be responsible for vast improvements in the quality of education for children.