Children in the early elementary school years need a solid understanding of number operations, geometry, and measurement, according to the Committee on Early Childhood Mathematics and the National Research Council. Of these foundational skills, awareness of number sense has received focus from the committee as most significant, requiring competent teaching along with time and practice in order to help children develop comfort and fluency in mathematics.
Numbers help people make sense of the world, and the awareness of one-to-one correspondence and assignment of names to quantities are among the first complex concepts mastered by very young children. Counting in the base ten system, comparing quantities of more or less, and adding and taking away amounts can be thought of in the broader context as “number sense." This is the premier skill that should receive emphasis in the early elementary school years as all other principals of mathematical understanding rely on a solid mastery of basic number sense.
The ability to think about two- and three-dimensional shapes in space should be a fundamental part of early elementary school math programs. Working in a concrete way to represent abstract concepts of shapes also lays a crucial base for later work with fractions, area and volume. Learning the names and analyzing the properties of shapes, both flat and dimensional, should occur in the curriculum as early as kindergarten when children are taught to distinguish between shapes and combine them in order to form new ones.
Math educator Marilyn Burns asserts that mastering measurement in the elementary school curriculum is important because it is such a commonly encountered and frequently used skill. Children who are able to explore the world with the methods and tools needed to solve concrete problems deepen their knowledge of what it means to measure. Understanding values of length, size, weight and volume help children make appropriate decisions when working with mathematical situations that require use of standard measurements.
Common Core State Standards
The Common Core Standards for mathematics incorporate the findings of the National Research Council in specific domains, with particular focus on number operations, measurement and geometry in kindergarten through the fifth grade. These standards clearly convey what is expected of children in school mathematics programs in the forty-five states that have currently adopted the foundational standards for math education. The Common Core Initiative has aligned these standards in order for students nationwide to make progress each year and become college and workforce ready.
Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.