remarkable ability to formulate, represent, and solve simple mathematical problems and to reason and explain their mathematical activities. They are positively disposed to do and to understand mathematics when they first encounter it” (p. 6).
However, not much attention has been paid historically to teaching mathematics to young children before they enter the period of formal schooling. This stems, at least in part, from generally negative attitudes about mathematics on the part of the American public as well as to beliefs that early childhood education should consist of a nurturing environment that promotes social-emotional development, with academic content primarily focusing on language and literacy development. In fact, a majority of parents report that a positive approach to learning and language development is more important for young children than mathematics (Cannon and Ginsburg, 2008). When asked which subject was more important for her child to learn and why, one mother said (p. 249):
Language. Definitely. I mean obviously they’re both [math and language] very important. But you can find people, even adults, who never learn math. I think that you could survive much better [without mathematics] than if you never learn language. I think communication is so important. If you could learn to be expressive, you could hire someone to do your math for you.
Families are agents of cultural transmission, which includes conveying attitudes about mathematics. Often, mathematics is not viewed as important to young children’s cognitive development and later academic success. Evidence shows, however, that learning mathematics is vital for children’s early years and for later success in mathematics as well as better overall academic outcomes in such areas as literacy, science, and technology (e.g., Duncan et al., 2007; National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2002).
In addition, early childhood teachers are often uncomfortable teaching mathematics (Clements and Sarama, 2007; Copley, 2004; Ginsburg et al., 2006; Lee and Ginsburg, 2007a). Many teachers avoid teaching mathematics because of their own negative early experiences with mathematics. The quote below, by a pre-service teacher attending a top-ranked university, is illustrative:
Overall, my personal experiences with math have not been good…. Throughout [my] elementary [schooling] it was either you were right or wrong…. As a result, I found math very boring and confusing. I am not a natural math learner…. I do not like the idea of teaching math to others, because I feel like I am not competent enough to teach math. I remember how hard it was when I was teaching adding and subtracting to first graders, especially when some of them did not understand it. I panicked