Don’t say you are not a math person…. slow down & stay a while.


Emergent Math

D.C.N. Developing Child Note: The emergent math skills of children 0 -5 begin way before number recognition and counting. Observations and explorations relating to mathematical understanding happen every day in the lives of little ones. Open-ended questions pave the earliest roads towards mathematical understanding. “Mathematics for young children should involve helping them make meaningful connections through play, discovery, and exploration in natural environments” (Linder, Powers-Costello, & Stegelin, 2011, p 30).

Don’t count yourself out of math.. Just think outside the box

Social-Emotional Connection

Young children mirror adult behaviors, language, and attitudes. An important channel to fostering young children’s early mathematic success is consistent positive dispositions towards mathematics. Projecting warm “feels” is important for encouraging young children to stay curious and confident in early math exploration.

Working from that positive head space, you can confidently begin to push children’s math understanding by asking good questions. Go fearlessly towards a fresh exploration of all things math! (Positive Math Attitude Modeling by Adults for Young Children: Ruffell, M. Mason, J. & Allen, B. 1998, Studying Attitude to Mathematics, Educational Studies in Mathematics, 35 p 1-18.)

Action Steps:

Firstbegin to see yourself as a math person. Look for ways that you find yourself naturally motivated toward math related activities. (music notes) If you’re jazzed and you know it, share it with the child in your life! (music notes).

Second, look for mathematical concepts in familiar but new spaces. I mean look for math in typical routines and daily practices that you wouldn’t normally consider with mathematical lenses. Keep it simple, emergent math categories commonly found within adult routines and children’s play include common but perhaps previously overlooked skills: classification (grouping sorting, organizing), magnitude (“big and bigger” describing and comparing size), dynamics (putting together, taking apart, reversing, flipping and rotating objects), patterning and shape (pretty simple, although patterns are sneaky, they are everywhere), spatial relations (location and direction), and enumeration (subtizing, or knowing a number without counting actual objects, we subtilize with dice) (Clements & Sarama, 2009).

Third, play with math to model and scaffold flexibility, comfort, and ease. Start with what is comfy for you… Get your hands on How Many Bugs in A Box by David A. Carter and explore the bugs and boxes in new ways with brave math focused questions such as:

On the first page: How did you know it was just one bug? (exploring subitizing skills and enumeration)

On the second page: Do you know of any other polka dot bugs? (categorizing skills)

On the third page: Will the taller box have more bugs? (magnitude work)

On the fourth page: How does this box work? How do the bugs disappear? (dynamics work)

On the fifth page: What shapes do you see on this page? (patterning and shape vocabulary)

-On the sixth page: Tell me which direction the fly is flying? (spatial relations)

Take it further by playing with counting, sorting, fitting into boxes, building patterns, and moving my favorite collection of plastic bugs from Lakeshore.

Finally, make it your own! The possibilities are endless, for example, you can explore categorization by gathering and providing the following materials to young children:

– Your spare button drawer
– Socks from the laundry
– Leaves
Hair bows
– Plastic bugs


Gurl, you have no idea how many math work sheets I’ve seen in 4 and 5-year-old kindergarten classrooms lately. Woof! My childhood was ripe with observations and explorations that naturally capitulated early mathematical understandings. I would help my mom cook regularly. Vacationing in a motor home my entire childhood, we loaded and unloaded the tiny kitchen with supplies for a weekend, two weeks, or our month long July trip to St. Augustine. I was regularly sent on reconnaissance jobs. Here’s how it went…

Mom asks, “Do we have enough paper plates?” Breathless (from running downstairs, into the motor home, out of the motor home and back up the basement stairs) 5-year-old me replied, “We have some”. Mom retorts, “A lot or a little?” attempting to mask frustration. “Medium.” I say and hold up the thumb and pointer of my right hand with about an inch and a half between them. “That tall?” Mom confirms. “yep!”  Recall your own positive early experiences with math and rewrite your story to include how you are, in fact, a math person.

You can do this. It is simpler than you think! 

Want to know more?

See my absolute favorite early childhood math specialist’s rationale for keeping math simple , Dr. Sandra Linder’s blog:

For more ideas about how to link math and play through books and toys,
ee Sandra M. Linder blog about finding
Math around the house.

For handy teacher tips, check out her TYC article about sharing playful math
with families: Linder, S.M. (2017). Math Take-Home Bags:
Activities to Support Family Math Play.
Teaching Young Children 11(1), p 29-31.

Other References: Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2009). Building blocks and cognitive building blocks: Playing to know the world mathematically. American Journal of Play1(3), 313-337.

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson

Dr. Andrea Miller Emerson is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in the Division of Education and Leadership at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. Andrea lives (and laughs frequently) with her husband, Kyle, and her cat, Zuzu. She brings diverse personal perspectives to early childhood education and care from her father’s Colombian heritage, her mother’s all-American culture from North Texas, her ongoing involvement with an Italian Immersion Program for pre-service teachers in Carpi, Italy, and her extensive international travel. To learn more about Dr. Emerson’s speaking engagements, or to invite her to speak, please click here.