The committee cast its net widely to examine as much of the relevant research as possible. For some issues, the evidence base was limited: Throughout the report, we attempt to recognize and acknowledge the limitations of the evidence base and, at the end of the report, suggest some areas in which the scope and quality of research can be strengthened. The committee was not able to pursue in depth the entire array of possible issues related to mathematics education during early childhood; for example, we lacked the time, resources, and expertise to do a comprehensive international comparative analysis of early childhood education in mathematics. We do discuss the literature on the role of language as a shared cultural experience that shapes children’s mathematical learning. In addition, neither program evaluation nor accountability, both of which are important to children’s early mathematics education programs, is discussed at length in the report.
In addressing the charge, although the committee did examine research related to the development of number and space concepts for the very early years (i.e., infancy through age 3), our focus was on children ages 3 through 6 and early mathematics education—which includes learning, teaching, teacher education, and curriculum. The committee paid special attention to the learning and teaching practices that underscore mathematical development in children from age 3 through the end of kindergarten. This age range was chosen as the focus because it provides children with key cognitive and social development opportunities associated with successful entry into formal schooling. Evidence demonstrates that preschool-age children are excited about learning and enjoy activities that develop their mathematics competencies (Gelman, 1980; Ginsburg et al., 2006; National Research Council, 2001b; Saxe et al., 1987); this period is thus critical for maintaining and enhancing motivation to learn, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, because enriching early learning experiences can enable them to begin kindergarten on a more level footing with their more advantaged peers.
The committee has put particular emphasis on the need to translate research on early childhood mathematics into practice for all children. Still, young children from disadvantaged backgrounds show lower levels of mathematics achievement than children from middle-class and higher status backgrounds (Clements and Sarama, 2007; Ginsburg and Russell, 1981; Hughes, 1986; Jordan, Huttenlocher, and Levine, 1994; Saxe et al., 1987; Starkey and Klein, 2000; Starkey, Klein, and Wakeley, 2004). The committee paid particular attention to issues of equity in early mathematics education throughout the report because of evidence indicating that, whereas all young children can benefit from intentional mathematics instruction, children who are at risk because of particular life circumstances