Pre-K Math: The Most Important Math Concepts Kids Learn in Pre-K

Kid doing pre-k math on a blackboard

Although there’s a lot of emphasis placed on emergent reading, experts show that pre-k math skills are just important for your child’s learning development.

Understanding what skills your child will be exposed to as math beginners will give you an idea of what concepts you can emphasize in fun, easy ways at home!

In this article, we’ll take you through the most important pre-k math concepts so you can encourage and motivate your budding mathematician!

What Are The Components Of Pre-K Math?

There are five basic components of pre-k math. They act like umbrella terms, each with many different elements hidden inside their broad concepts.

Your child will become acquainted with all of these essential concepts when they begin learning pre-k math.

Kid at school doing pre-k math

1) Numbers And Counting

Children typically start with the bedrock of math — numbers! They’ll learn number names and how to write numbers, typically beginning with 1-10.

Counting is not easy business! While your child learns how to count — first with physical objects, then conceptually — they are bound to make mistakes here and there. This is perfectly all right. Counting, especially in their head, will take time to master.

Most of kids’ initial exposure will be through representational counting. This could mean counting the number of strawberries in their lunch box, how many orange crayons are in a pack, and so on. These counting activities will set the stage for a strong foundation in counting.

By understanding that numbers represent objects, your child will begin to understand one-to-one correspondence (each object counted gets its own number and only that number) as well as the counting principle that when counting the number of objects, the last number counted equals the amount present.

Over time, a child’s reliance on physical objects for counting will decrease. They’ll depend more on conceptual counting as their skills develop.

This conceptual counting is called “number sense.” They’ll understand that quantities, whether tangible or theoretical, are countable. They’ll also learn that numbers can be compared: two or more numbers can have a more-than, less-than, or same as-number relationship.

2) Addition And Subtraction

Once your child has a firm grasp on counting and is developing number sense, they’ll explore the relationships between numbers more often. Describing how numbers are the same or different will lead into learning how to combine two numbers to make a new number!

Similar to the last concept, children will typically learn how to add and subtract by relying on counting activities with tangible objects. For example, you could set up two separate groups of apples and ask how many you will have if you join them together.

The first group may have three apples, while the second group has two apples. Your child will likely count the first group, then move onto the second group and continue the count knowing that the two groups are now one.

This is their first introduction to addition! The same idea works for subtracting. What happens when you begin with five apples and then take away two of them.

“Taking away” objects may be a little harder for your child to master at first — after all, they’re going backward down the number line! This is why many children will remove apples first and then count the remaining apples rather than counting backward.

Framing math as word problems in this way helps your child understand them. It is one way to make mathematics concrete and realistic rather than dealing with numbers out of context.

Remember, adding and subtracting are basically making comparisons between numbers or establishing relationships between them. There are many strategies a child might use to solve a problem, which is a good thing since our main goal is to help children think mathematically.

3) Geometry And Spatial Reasoning

Kid cutting up shapes for pre-k math

Shapes are everywhere in our world, which will be one of your greatest assets when it comes to teaching your child about shapes and spatial reasoning.

They’ll start out by learning about the basic 2-D shapes that are used in math: squares, triangles, circles, rectangles, rhombuses, and ovals. Learning how to draw these basic shape illustrations can be helpful for their learning process.

Some of these shapes you’ll be able to reference easily in your day to day life. This will help reinforce your child’s understanding of the shapes after their initial introduction.

For example, when making breakfast with your child, you could hold up a plate and ask them, “What shape is this? Do you think it’s a square or a circle?”

Other shapes, like triangles or rhombuses, may be a little harder to find hanging around. Challenge your child to find these shapes in nature. Are there any flower petals in your garden that are shaped like triangles (or an aloe vera plant hanging in their windowsill)?

Encourage your child to be creative with identifying shapes! It will help them with learning geometry in the long run.

Next, learning 3-D shapes will come after learning 2-D shapes. Like their flatter cousins, 3-D shapes are all around the world, too! Your child’s soccer ball is a sphere; the paper towel roll in the kitchen is a cylinder.

We recommend learning the basic form of these shapes and how they appear first. Then you can use the natural 3-D shapes in your child’s environment to reinforce their learning!

Kids also learn about spatial reasoning by discovering how to describe these shapes. They can compare them with dimensional adjectives like “big” and “small,” or characteristics of their shape like “straight” and “curvy.”

This includes the spatial relationship between different objects, too. Look out for observations using location adverbs like “under,” “beside,” or “around.” These are all different ways for your child to “measure” or observe how shapes take up space.

4) Sorting And Patterns

We categorize things in our daily lives without even realizing it. Your child probably already does this, too — they may arrange their stuffed animals or toys in a certain way. For example, they may keep farm animals separated from dinosaurs.

Sorting and patterns are related to categorical reasoning. In the same way grocery stores sort out items by their parallel uses, your child will learn how to sort things based on their characteristics and how they are the same or different from other objects.

They’ll sort objects by weight, shape, quantity, texture, color, and other traits, often without even realizing it!

It’s important to note here that sorting and counting aren’t sequential. Your child will likely learn how to sort things before they learn to count them, in fact.

For instance, if you want your child to sort a bowl of fruit, you can ask them to count all of the strawberries. They’ll sort the strawberries from the rest of the fruit. If you ask them to count the red fruit, they’ll sort out strawberries, cherries, and watermelon and count them together.

Sorting leads to patterns. Just like in our last example, your child will learn how to pinpoint a pattern rule (such as a strawberry-blueberry-strawberry-blueberry chain) and apply it. Your child will learn how to:

  • Copy a pattern
  • Identify the parts that repeat and continue a pattern
  • Correct a mistake in a pattern
  • Explain a pattern
  • Create their own patterns

5) The Language Of Math

Kids doing math exercises with mom

Part of learning how to do math means learning how to “speak” math. We don’t mean your child will turn into CP30 — just that they will learn how to use mathematically correct language, or how to tell a story with math terms.

This can happen in daily life. While picking at an afternoon snack, your younger child may say, “Hey! My brother has more crackers than me!” Then you might agree to “add” to the cookies on the younger child’s plate so that both plates are “equal.”

These skills may be naturally exciting for your child — they’ll feel like they’re learning how to speak “grown up!” Show them how fun it is to incorporate mathematically appropriate language into their daily speech and use it to tell stories about what’s going on around them.

Using words to describe things in their lives will help them give ownership over ideas and observations. Motivate them to think about the order of the world around them and use different words to describe them, such as:

  • More than
  • Less than
  • Shape names
  • Light or heavy
  • Small or big

Mastering math language will help them in their quest to become robust mathematicians!

Encouraging A Love Of Pre-K Math At Home

Mom with daughter helping with pre-k math

Pre-k math isn’t just reserved for pre-k classes. You can help your child explore the exciting world of math right from your home!

HOMER is always here to help and happy to be your at-home learning partner. Our Learn & Grow app offers tons of opportunities for your child to develop their pre-k math skills from conception to execution.

Our games are personalized to accommodate your child’s specific interests. They include pattern-identification games like Ribbons or shape-building games like the Castle Creator.

Your child can also explore the Shapery Bakery, where they help the cute, cuddly Tissa the Cat by sorting treats based on their shape. All that and so much more can help your child develop their pre-k math skills!