Understanding numbers and simple math facts and operations begins at a young age. Children with good math calculation skills can count to 10, recognize math numbers, group objects, and do simple calculations and operations with manipulatives. Subitizing is thought to be an important precursor to math development. Subitizing is the ability to 'see' a small amount of objects and know how many there are without counting. (e.g., the number you roll on a six sided dice).

Some common early math concepts that develop from age 4 to 6 are as follows:

Number Identification: Children first learn what the 10 numerals (0 through 9) look like and their corresponding names.

Counting: When children first learn to count, they count by rote memorization. They are able to say the numbers 1 through 10 because they have memorized the order of the words. They do not know 4 is 3 more than 1.

One-to-one correspondence: Children learn when counting that each object being counted represents “one more”.

Counting on: Children learn to continue counting numbers to a previous group without recounting the entire group. They begin to subitize.

Number Sense: Children relate to simple concepts of addition and subtraction. They will start estimating, or guessing, the number of objects in a set. They begin to subitize with accuracy.

Sequencing and Patterning: Children recognize and create patterns (e.g., when playing with blocks, they can put them in a particular order: square, circle, triangle, square, circle, triangle pattern). This skill helps children make predictions of what comes next, which can be generalized to social situations (e.g., cleaning up comes after eating).

Classifying and Sorting: Children classify and sort objects by similar physical traits such as color, shape, or size to create different sets. Younger children sort by one attribute (e.g., creating a set of all blue shapes) whereas older children sort by more than one attribute (e.g., creating a set of blue triangles). This activity allows children to develop logical reasoning skills and independent thinking.

An early clue that children may have math difficulties (termed dyscalculia) is they struggle learning to count; they don’t “get numbers”, or how numbers relate to one another; or how to manipulate numbers using mathematical operations. Math difficulties are common in other disorder groups as well. Individuals with dyslexia often struggle with numbers as they do with letters. Children with language limitations may confuse operations and have trouble processing word problems. Children with ADHD are slow to learn and retrieve math facts, do not attend to operations (add when it says to subtract), miss steps when completing problems, and often make careless calculation errors.


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