Young children in early childhood classrooms do not spend much time engaged in mathematics content. Time spent on mathematics increases somewhat in kindergarten. The time that is spent engaged in mathematics is typically of low instructional quality (La Paro et al., 2008) and, more often than not, is conducted as a part of whole-class activities or embedded in center time or free play. Early childhood teachers rarely teach mathematics in small groups. They report that they are much more likely to use embedded mathematical strategies or do the calendar, which they consider to be teaching mathematics, rather than provide experiences with a primary focus on mathematics in which they scaffold children’s progress along important mathematics teaching-learning paths. Formative assessment has considerable potential to provide teachers with meaningful methods for assessing children’s mathematical knowledge and improving their instruction to meet children’s needs.

On a more optimistic note, the early childhood education field is actively working to improve the teaching of mathematics. The National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2002) issued a joint position statement calling for more and better mathematics curriculum and teaching in early childhood programs. Head Start has launched a new mathematics professional development initiative. In addition, the reauthorization of Head Start calls for research-based curriculum and practices. The time is right to enhance young children’s mathematics experiences not only to improve school readiness, but also to lay a foundation for lifelong understanding and enjoyment of mathematics. The challenges as well as the advances in research and policies aimed at improving young children’s mathematics learning speak to the need for extensive professional development around young children’s mathematics—the focus of the next chapter.


Archibald, S., and Goetz, M. (2008). A Professional Development Framework for PreKindergarten Education. Paper commissioned by the Committee for Early Childhood Mathematics, Mathematics Science Education Board, Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Sciences and Education, National Research Council, Washington, DC.

Arnold, D.H., Fischer, P.H., Doctoroff, G.L., and Dobbs, J., (2002). Accelerating math development in Head Start classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(4), 762-770.

Askew, M., Brown, M., Rhodes, V., Johnson, D., and Wiliam, D. (1997, September). Effective Teachers of Numeracy. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference (September 11-14, University of York). Available: [accessed July 2008].

Aubrey, C. (1997). Children’s early learning of number in school and out. In I. Thompson (Ed.), Teaching and Learning Early Numbers (pp. 20-29). Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

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