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How to Boost Mathematical Thinking in Preschoolers

Foster children’s mathematical thinking with these simple activities.

How to Boost Mathematical Thinking in Preschoolers

How to Boost Mathematical Thinking in Preschoolers

The preschool years are a very explorative time in a child’s development. Children are curious about the world around them, seeking to understand their new surroundings. With this natural instinct already there, it’s a great time to hone their mind and encourage them to maintain that curiosity. One way to accomplish this is to focus on mathematical thinking.

What is mathematical thinking?

Mathematics alone isn’t considered mathematical thinking; the concept is more of a philosophy. Mathematics encompasses things like measuring, making comparisons, building, and equations. But they all boil down to basic problem-solving and having number sense, or the ability to understand and use numbers. Mathematical thinking is the philosophy of incorporating mathematics and out-of-the-box thinking to solve everyday, real-world problems.

Mathematical thinking focuses more on the journey of figuring things out than on just getting the right answer. This is important, especially for children, because it makes them better problem-solvers, which will benefit them in subjects outside of math, in their development, and throughout life. It’s related to critical thinking, the process of thinking rationally and logically in conjunction with evidence, observations, and facts to analyze, solve, or make a judgment about a topic. Similarly, mathematical reasoning employs critical thinking, specifically in solving mathematical questions.

How to think mathematically

Regular math activities are a great way to help children develop mathematical thinking. But another simple way is to use daily moments to practice it. For example, whenever children need to be put into groups for something, give each child a number between one and ten. Then, once the groups are set, have the children add their assigned numbers together and make the total number the name of their group.

Another strategy for getting children to think mathematically is to model your own problem-solving and involve them in it. A moment for this is when you need to organize something, such as a bookshelf, and figure out how each item can fit. Ask the children how many items to use, where they can go, and what they think when it’s finished.

Since mathematical thinking is about bringing a philosophy into daily life, it’s important to constantly encourage it. So, always be on the lookout for opportunities to discuss math and situations that need to be solved. Involve the children and ask them open-ended questions that will inspire them to think deeper. Here are some examples:

  • What do you think about this?
  • What do you notice about this?
  • Is there another way to fix this?
  • How can we figure this out?
  • What is the same about these?
  • What is different about these?

male teacher helping young girl build structure with colorful legos


Mathematical mind

In Montessori philosophy, there is a belief that children are born with a “mathematical mind.” This is a natural tendency for things like exploration, order, orientation, and exactness. And over time, that tendency manifests into logical, systematic thinking and the ability to imagine, create, and think abstractly. So, under Montessori’s mathematical mind philosophy, children naturally have a mathematical mind, but it’s important to foster and enrich it throughout their development.

Mathematical thinking activities

There are daily moments in the preschool classroom where you can incorporate mathematical thinking. But, to sharpen it as a skill, it’s essential to focus specific activities on it. Use brightwheel’s lesson plan feature to easily incorporate these activities into your schedule. Nearly any activity can be turned into a mathematical thinking moment with some modifications or additional questions, especially STEAM activities. Here are more examples to use in your classroom:

  • Height checks: Have children, one by one, line up against a wall and help them measure their height with items. Then, help them record their height in items like, “I am three books and one pencil case tall.”
  • Matching UNO cards: Lay out a set of UNO cards face down. Have children flip the cards over one by one and make matches as they go. Try matching either the number or color, and then make it a little harder by matching both the number and color.
  • Sorting games: Choose categories and have the children sort as many items as possible in a timed period into those categories. It may be a competition for who can collect the most blue objects, round items, or other classifications for sorting.
  • Pretend store: Have the children set up a store in the classroom and sell commonly used items. Then, have moments in class where children can buy things they want from their peers. You can use fake money or item exchanges for payments.
  • Graphing: Start with a large chart on the floor or on the board with headers and columns under each. The headers should be categories relevant to small magnets or figurines you have available in class. For example, the categories could be land, sky, and water, and the small items can be an assortment of cars, boats, and planes. Then, have the children place their items in the corresponding category.  

Developing the mind

Children are experiencing a continuous whirlwind of growth and changes when they’re in preschool. There are multiple areas of development that need the proper attention to reach their full potential. Encouraging children to think mathematically will help them develop essential problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will set them up for future success in school and life.

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