2005; Layzer, Goodson, and Moss, 1993), a finding not much different from what is observed in the early elementary grades (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Network Early Child Care Research Network, 2002, 2005; and see Chapter 7 of this report for further discussion of instruction).

Early childhood educators’ pedagogical beliefs direct and constrain their instructional practices, which subsequently shape children’s academic and social environments. When addressed, early childhood mathematics is usually constrained to basic ideas in number and operations, such as 1-to-1 correspondence, simple addition and subtraction, and number symbols or numerals (Lee and Ginsburg, 2007b). Geometry and measurement are noted less frequently (Clements, 2004). In addition to rote memorization and basic skills, such as memorizing the first 10 or so counting words, young children are capable of understanding more sophisticated mathematical concepts, such as cardinality. The content of young children’s mathematics can be both deep and broad, and, when provided with engaging and developmentally appropriate mathematics activities, their mathematics knowledge flourishes. Yet these research findings are largely not represented in practice.


The professional development of early childhood teachers is nuanced and complicated. We begin our discussion with an overview of professional development, looking at the nature of quality professional development and the context for the delivery of professional development, both in-service and pre-service. We address the impact of professional development on teachers’ performance generally. We then turn to a discussion of the professional development for teaching mathematics to young children, addressing the need for mathematics preparation; mathematics content and teacher preparation; efforts at in-service mathematics support, including the outcomes of such support; and efforts at pre-service preparation for teachers in mathematics.

To aid the discussion, we define key terms as follows:

  • Professional development: an umbrella term that refers to both formal education and training.

  • Formal education: refers to the amount of credit-bearing coursework a teacher has completed at an accredited institution, including two-or four-year colleges and universities.

  • Training: refers to educational activities that take place outside the formal education process. Such efforts may include coaching, mentoring, and workshops.

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