Why Math Matters in Early Childhood Education

Sorting objects. Building with blocks. Playing with different types of shapes. If you wander into a WES Nursery or Pre-K room on any given day, you’ll see lots of these types of activities. It may look like play (and it is) but it’s also laying the foundation for algebraic thinking.

Research shows that early math skills are the best predictor of academic success later in life. When early numeracy is developed in our youngest learners it builds flexible thinking and problem solving. So what does it take to provide your child with a strong foundation for achievement? 

“Of course we teach the children their numbers and counting, but our mathematics curriculum is so much deeper,” says Mary Lee Nickel, director of the Early Childhood program. “Our approach to Early Childhood math lays the groundwork for future problem solving and logical thought. We are trying to build a strong number sense.”

So what is number sense, anyway?

The phrase refers to a group of skills that allow children to work with numbers. It includes:

  • Understanding quantities
  • Grasping concepts like more and less, and larger and smaller
  • Recognizing relationships between single items and groups of items 
  • Understanding symbols that represent quantities 
  • Making number comparisons 
  • Understanding patterns

Sorting, comparing, building, shape exploration, and counting are integrated throughout the day at WES, helping children build and expand this innate number sense. 

Children encounter patterns all around them from the time they are babies. They develop an understanding of these regularities from their environment, such as the uniform row of giraffes on a favorite baby blanket or the tune from a beloved nursery song mom and dad sing every night.  To build a strong number sense, children must move from recognizing patterns to understanding the structures and rules that make up a pattern. Once a child understands patterns, s/he is able to describe them, reproduce them, extend them, fill in the missing elements, and create new ones. 

The search for the structures and rules underlying patterns is one way children begin to engage in algebraic thinking even at an early age. A child may realize that each tower in a series of buildings increases by three blocks, so that the next tower must be X+3 and the next tower will be (X+3) + 3. Although the child is not writing anything down or using written symbolism, the child is engaged in simple algebraic thinking that expresses a general rule. This early learning provides the gateway to formal algebra taught in later grades. 

“In my Nursery class, we introduce these concepts through games; using blocks, pegs, and various counters; and measuring, estimating and predicting, just to name a few,” says Katya Elkassem, Nursery teacher. “But no matter what we do, the most important thing is that the children have fun and know that they are loved.”

WES has a limited number of openings in their Nursery, Pre-Kindergarten, and Kindergarten programs for Fall ’21. If you would like to learn more about the Early Childhood program at WES, please join us at one of our Early Childhood Coffees:

Wednesday, May 26, 9-10 a.m.

Wednesday, June 2, 9-10 a.m.


You will meet our Head of School and Early Childhood Director Mary Lee Nickel. Our teachers will also drop by to say hi!