Friday, August 31, 2018

Art Smart - Mondrian

Activity for ages 4+ with good scissor experience.

We are stepping beyond scribbles, smears and tossed-on collages and adding some product into our process art.  

Wednesdays are our cut and paste days. 

Often preschool teachers cut out the shapes themselves, give the students a review of Mondrian pieces and put some up as "inspiration" and then provide a piece of paper and glue. 

To me, this strips away the skill inherent: cutting, and the process: creativity. It is becomes purely product, trying to replicate Mondrian's creativity with pieces skillfully cut by the teacher.

To make this a process piece, I simply give the following directions:

  1. Black is to be cut into strips
  2. Red and yellow are to be cut into squares
"How big should they be?" 

"However big you want them to be."
I provided 2 sheets of black and 2 half sheets each of yellow and red for 4 children. [The 3yo isn't up to cutting shapes, so he was just cutting.]

Once THEY feel they have cut as much as they desire, then I bring out the paper.
      3. Put your cut pieces on your paper how you want them

Then I bring out the glue.
      4. Glue your pieces where you put them

So this is still a process piece with just a bit of direction. As you can see, there is still plenty of room for creativity and interpretation. One did it portrait and two did it landscape. One didn't use any red. One made a road. It is still black lines and colored squares. 

They worked very diligently and were very proud of these pieces. Not bad at all for 4-year-olds.

Next week, when this activity is not fresh, we will observe and discuss Mondrian. They will be able to relate to the works after doing this activity, but they will have lost any intense emotional attachment to their own art and should not feel any inferiority or desire to change it in light of the new information. 

Tags: child care, daycare, preschool, pre-k, teaching, homeschool, fine motor,

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Preschool Time!

It's August! Back to school! We never really stop having "school" time, but now that the big boys are all four, and are developmentally ready, we are taking it more seriously. Here's what we are working on this first month of pre-k:

  • Sight words
  • Letter blend phonics
  • Writing
  • Number recognition to 24
  • Number order to 20
  • Basic math
  • Geometry
  • Animal classification/habitats

These children have the following skill sets firmly in place:

  • Number recognition 0-10
  • Letters: uppercase/lowercase/phonics
  • Basic shapes, including hexagon/octagon
  • Excellent vocabulary
  • Basic reading and writing conventions

While they still get to make their own decisions on participation and processes in many areas, when it comes to "school time," things have changed up. The transition to being expected to follow directions is a HUGE one. Some transition better and quicker than others. Another wonderful aspect of small-group preschool is that individual tailoring of instruction can still be very much in place.

Here's what we are up to.


Sight word exposure began almost a year ago. I would point out words, talk about words, spell words, and we would dance to word videos. This pre-loading exposure made it very easy to slip into more formalized instruction.

I believe that learning to read needs to be personalized, whole movement and fun, as much as possible. You won't see us sitting in a circle doing flash cards. I teach that letters have sounds, sounds make words, words make sentences, and sentences tell a story/have meaning. Words have little meaning by themselves, and thus breed little interest.

Sight words must be memorized. Period. The children are expected to have some sight words memorized prior to kindergarten and to have nearly 100 words memorized by the end of kindergarten. These are highly common words they will encounter and words that don't follow the rules, such as "is." By learning them early, the children gain a limited ability to read. Success! So when they begin to sound out words, they only will have a few difficult words to sound out, and be able to read the rest of the story. This ability to succeed is very important for them to remain engaged when reading becomes more difficult. 

Sight word memorization, whole word reading, is the third of 5 key components to actual, fluid reading ability.

1. Learning conventions such as left-right reading, turning pages, letters make words 
2. Learning upper & lowercase letters and phonics
3. Learning sight words
4. Learning to phonetically sound out words
5. Learning advanced blends, digraphs, phonemes, rule breakers

Our sight word books are simple, repetitive, and created with input from the boys. THEY pic out the pictures we use. THEY have ownership.

Ownership is the KEY INGREDIENT to reading. Children are self-centric. It's all about them. If you make reading about them and their interests, they will dive in enthusiastically. This is a pic of them while I'm making books. They could be doing a hundred different things, but they are SO anxious to get ahold of the new books they just got through helping to create.

While I teach according to the Dolch word lists, I will pull from any level I feel is appropriate to our situation, not just the pre-k level. "This" is a 2nd level word, but it is one of the first ones I teach. "This" implies immediacy, ownership, and singularity, all of which appeal to preschoolers.

As we come across words with blends, such as "this," then we talk about, practice, and use the blend. At this point, it is simply as we come across them, no active planned instruction on blends.

We play a lot of games with sight words. One of their favorites is Word Run. I put out sight words on the floor, right now we are only doing 4 at a time, and give them an order to step on them. We do a few rounds, then I change the word order they are to do them, and the order they sit on the floor. It makes it a whole new activity with very little change. Keeps it fresh and keeps them thinking. 

This is also a MATH activity, as they have to listen to the pattern and follow it. A 4 unit pattern is just that bit difficult, while a 3 unit pattern is pretty easy for them. One of the reasons I am doing 4. If we are doing a sentence, it becomes easier for them to remember the order and we can do a larger number of words. In this case, I used a sentence because I was filming and wanted them to do it independently. They still looked to me whenever they were uncertain, because it is a relatively new activity. 

As with all the activities, we do one, then they have the opportunity to do it independently for as long as they wish, or to do it independently as a free choice activity later in the day. It's important that they take ownership of their learning. This is a Reggio inspired school, and even though instruction has become more formalized, it is still important that they choose and own their learning.

I don't introduce writing until 4 and don't get serious about letter formation until the summer before kindergarten. This is the ONLY area where I use worksheets as a key component for instruction. Our writing bin has a lot of wipe/erase books, white boards, magnetic writing boards, chalk boards, etc. for them to practice writing. They also have free access to paper, crayons, pencils and markers. We do writing in the dirt, sand, etc. But until 4, it is a free-choice activity except for Journal drawing on Mondays.

For language, we also do Monday speech, where the children take turns standing up and talking about their weekend, tell a story, sing a song or show a trick. They take questions and give answers to practice public speaking. 


They have down 0-10 and somewhat 11-20. 11-20 I consider to be the most difficult number recognition to get down, and it is where I always end up spending the most instruction time on a single repetitive topic. They can pretty much count by 10s. So on our journey to be able to count to 100, we are getting more serious about number recognition and number order. 

We have our large number cards, and we do this as an instruction activity. The cards are mixed up and scattered on one side of the floor and they move them into the correct position on the other side. It is also offered as a free choice activity, and these two are always wanting to do it and get faster. 

At first they would ask me after each card if it was correct. I've altered their expectations so that they have to check one another's work and only ask me when they are finished. If it is wrong, then we work to find the error together and have them make corrections.

These number cards [0-10 are available FREE in my TPT shop] are also great for recognition. I will lay out the cards and have them step on the number I call out. When working on 0-10, we will line them in a path and walk the path saying the number name. There are a ton of activities to do with them. They are also color coded for when we start working on odd/even later in the year.

This week we have also been doing Number Lotto for 0-24. We always use edibles for our game tokens when doing it as a "school" activity. They get to eat them when done. This time, we are using Cheerios. Hands and cards are cleaned prior to activity.

I teach addition/subtraction/multiplication/division/grouping/grid formation/graphing all together. Children get it. Grouping automatically connects to un-grouping, which is what it is all about. 

This is not taught on a white board. It is done hands-on with toys, and not just any toys. It is with their FAVORITE toys. They want to know how many THEY have, how many more THEY can add, how many THEIR friend just took, etc. It's entirely personalized. There is an emotional reaction in physically handing over toys to someone else and realizing that your amount just lessened, or joy in receiving more. That personalized connection to the activity is huge to their understanding and retention. 

These children already have down the 12 basic shapes I teach. [Available on TPT] So we are moving on to 3D shapes, trapezoids, parallelograms, rhombus, etc. While our geo board activities are more about following directions, interpreting data, and mirroring processes, it is also a great geometry tool. We discuss angles and how many sides, and are beginning to work out how the grid works.  

The boys get to pick out a shape to make each day. This day they chose a butterfly. Today we made a train. After the group activity, they get free play time with the geo boards and clean up and abandon the activity at will. Once everyone is done, then we all come back to put away and move on.


We have the globe out and are learning about our place in the world and world's place in the universe. Since they are SO into animals, that is our focus. As we learn about animals, we are learning about habitats, eating habits, classifications, etc. We were in a snake and shark phase, luckily that has expanded.

Just now, Mr. L at lunch:

"Connie, we are HUMANS. Right?"
"Yes. We are people and people are humans."
"We are CARNIVORES. Right?"
"Well, we are omnivores. We eat meat AND plants, so we are carnivores and herbivores. Since we are BOTH carnivores and herbivores, we are called omnivores. That means we eat plants AND animals."
Mr. L nods his head like he's got it. 

Lesson tomorrow is determined.


We are adding more product to our process. For instance, in this activity, they were to cut tissue paper into strips and glue it down in one direction, where before they were allowed to just cut it up and glue it down however. So, while it is still entirely their choice of pieces to use, colors, which direction, etc., there were some parameters given.

These are multi-step directions, which is also something we are working upon. They do not get into trouble for not following through with the parameters, but it gives me great insight to see who does what, how and to see where the disconnects occur. 

They are, after all, just turned 4, and Mr. La, who coat-tails along wonderfully, is just turned 3.

Tags: homeschool, home school, preschool, pre-k, child care, daycare, teaching, kids, children, boy, girl, learning, education  

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Discipline Through Observations

"Kind of a mess in here, isn't it gentlemen?"

Discipline literally means "to teach." It is not only learning to follow rules, which so many adults focus upon. It is also teaching children to CHOOSE to follow the rules, to choose to work with their community members to better situations, to choose to be responsible for their behavior and their actions, to choose to not follow friends who are making bad choices, and to have the internal motivation to make correct choices even when no one is looking. 

This is another low-key method to use in your discipline strategy, that greatly enhances the above aspects in children's behavior.

It again works best with clear and consistent rules and expectations. If a child knows exactly what is expected, then they also know exactly what is going wrong. 

The key aspect of this method is that it places the responsibility for knowing the rules and expectations, choosing to follow the rules and expectations, and correcting their behavior, ON THE CHILD. It is not a top-down demand for obedience, it is an observation that requires the child to own their behavior and make different/appropriate choices. 

It promotes internal motivation, self-reliance, resiliency, responsibility, autonomy, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, community...Yes, 3-4 year olds. 

Demands simply require compliance. Demands place the problem on your shoulders. Demands tell children to do things they should already be doing.

I use it in a 3-step process:

1. "Do I hear someone running inside? I hope not There is no running inside. Someone could get hurt and I don't like my friends to get hurt."

2. "Did I just hear someone running inside AGAIN? People who run inside will have to go into time out."

3. "[Mr. L] time out for running."


"Did I hear someone spitting? [blowing raspberries] I hope not, there is no spitting. That's how people spread germs and children get sick. No one likes to be sick."

Mr. R: "[Mr. La], don't do that. It's nasty."

"I wish we could go outside, but the floor is all full of toys. We can't even safely get to the door. We have to take care of our responsibilities first. Responsible children don't leave messes on the floor for others to trip over and get hurt."

Mr. L: "[Mr. H] and I'll pick up the block area. You guys pick up the play area so we can go outside."

"We can't have story time until people take care of their responsibilities." [I circle my finger around the table area, where children have abandoned activities]

Mr. H: "I'll put mine away. [Mr. La] you need to put your activity away so we can have stories!
I have no problem rewarding and promoting compliance. I always offer high praise. The person who chooses to pick up will get the choice of story. The person who picks up others' messes will get a few chocolate chips. These random rewards just help to reinforce that good behavior, good choices, have their benefits.

We currently have a "Responsibilities First" agenda going on here and at home, so they hear that word repetitiously, and know what it means.

When you are not telling a specific child to do a specific thing, then the group as a whole has to decide who is responsible, what changes need to be made, and who will perform in what manner. 

There is an underlying request for action, and an underlying reward or threat of discipline for making their next behavior CHOICE. 

It is a choice. If it is not a choice, then I would make a clear demand: "Time to pick up. Let's get to it." "We're going outside. Pick up now." 

Choice of good behavior, teaches SO much more than demand, that I try to use this method as often as possible. It also tells me a lot about each child as to how they respond to these observations. 
Tags: child care, daycare, preschool, parenting, discipline, toddlers, preschoolers

Discipline with Discussions

This is a very calm and methodical method to use in discipline. It works if rules and expectations are clear and consistent, as they should be. Always.

What is a "discussion" and how does it impact discipline?

So just now I had a child complaining about another child taking a toy. Both boys are about to turn 4.

STEP 1 is a warning discussion: 

"[Mr. H], do we need to have a discussion about your behavior?"
Mr. H stands and looks at me, side-eyeing his activity, "No!"
"Do you know how you should be behaving and what you should be doing?"
"Then I want to see that happening."
Goes back to his activity.

Why it works:
When I talk to a child, I look them in they eye. They are expected to stand and look me in the eye, which takes them away, momentarily, from their activity. The rule here is that a child has possession of items as long as they are actively engaged with that item. Once they are not actively engaged with an item, then they lose possession and the item becomes available to others. So with this "discussion" I took him out of active play and made him concerned for his possession. It reminds him of what step 2 entails if he doesn't change his wayward path.

STEP 2 is a full-on discussion about his behavior 

At this point, we discuss what he did inappropriately, what he should have done instead, and how he plans to respond in a similar situation in the future. It ends with a warning of a time-out consequence if the behavior is repeated. This discussion takes place away from the other children and play areas, removing the child from active possession of any items. 

Why it works:

  • It reiterates the rules and expectations in place.
  • It tells the child what TO DO, and creates within them an appropriate plan of behavior.
  • It makes them indirectly lose possession of their activity, just as a time-out would, without segregation and direct discipline.
  • It is a second-step, higher-level consequence to their continued bad choices.
  • It gives them a specific future consequence if the behavior is repeated, placing the choice in the child's realm of responsibility.

These guys spend a lot of time in toy jail. Bad dinos.

What a full-on discussion looks like:

Sometimes, as with Mr. L in the pic above, discussions take place because clarification of rules and expectations is necessary. 

Mr. L is also almost 4. Rule broken: Taking toys from your friends.

Me: "Why can't he play with that toy?"
"I don't want him to."
"Were you still playing with it?"
"So he could play with it?"
"I didn't want him to."
"Then what do you need to do if you want to keep a toy safe?"
"I don't know."
"You need to put them in a safe spot. Where are the safe spots"?"
"On the counter."
"Yes, or in your cubby or you can hand it to me and ask me to put it on the dresser. If you ASK me to put something there, then you can also ASK me to get it down when you are ready to play with it again." [It also acts as toy jail.]
"But I wanted [Mr. H] to have it."
"Then you walk it over to him, ask him if he wants to play with it, and hand it to him. Leaving it lying on the floor makes it okay for ANYONE to play with it, and it is no longer your decision who gets to do so."
"So, since the toy is causing problems, its going up for the rest of the day."
"Now, where are the safe spots to keep toys you want to keep for yourself?"
"Counter, my cubby, or give it to you."
"And if you want to give a toy to a friend, how would you do that?"
"Go give it to him."
"Yes, and if he doesn't want it, then you put it away in the play area."

I will re-visit this discussion later in the day and once again the next day to ensure understanding. If it is something that needs to be reinforced to the entire group, I will do so in a group setting.
Tags: parenting, child care, daycare, preschool, discipline, toddlers, preschoolers, 3 year old, 4 year old, rules, expectations

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Communication in Child Care

Communication between child care providers and parent clients is vitally important, and often lacking. The relationship between parents and providers needs to be a clear PARTNERSHIP. All good relationships are based in good communication.

You can't fix a problem you don't understand.

You can't be fully compassionate or patient when you don't understand the motivation.

I have two sets of clients that came to me complaining that the main reason they were leaving their previous provider was due to lack of communication. Both said that each day all the discussion given was a simple, "had a great day!" Then at home when the child wouldn't eat or sleep like usual, was more fussy or defiant than usual, the parents had no clue what could have caused it.

While parents may not appreciate a detailed listing of all their child's transgressions throughout the day, especially when they just got through with work and are not looking forward to the evening drill, it is important that everyone understands and focuses on the child and his/her well-being.

Open communication needs to be created by the provider. Parents do not want to anger a provider who has their child's well-being in their hands for most of each day. 

Many parents and providers simply do not have a personality that allows them to be communication instigators. But as providers, it is a requirement of our business that we learn and practice good communication skills.

Communication levels and methods need to be not only open, but negotiated. I just had a newborn start and I talked with the parents about what I needed and what the parents needed regarding information and communication. I let them know I could give them as little or as much as they needed to feel comfortably informed. Since they are former clients, and our partnership and trust is well established, they need much less from me than a brand new set of clients probably would need.

They decided to send a text when they feed before coming so I know when he'll need another feeding, and they change the infant before coming here as a given. At the end of the day I give them a quick verbal rundown to let them know if he was fussy any, had any tummy issues, how he slept, how many dirty diapers and if wet was good. 

They preferred a verbal rather than written or texted daily review. Their previous provider texted both of them throughout the day what was going on, and it was bothersome to them at work, but they didn't know how to tell her and didn't feel comfortable doing so.

A friend complained recently to me that her center teacher at pick-up time always said her child had "a great day!" But when talking to her child, it was anything but. After hearing that her child had a great day, and then finding a knot on her child's head due to being pushed, my friend went in to talk to the director. 

The pick-up time teacher was only with the children the last couple of hours, and didn't communicate or relay any information from the lead teacher. My friend never saw the lead teacher at drop-off or pick-up, so had absolutely no idea what was actually going on throughout the day. The director offered no apologies or solutions. My friend was thankful her child was old enough to talk, and was talking to me because she is looking for other care options.

Providers need to relay factual detailed incident information, not a general feeling or overreaching label. It should NEVER label a child, only the behavior. "He was a pretty bad boy today," does not tell a parent much and attacks the child's identity. "He hit a child with a dinosaur when I asked him to put it away before lunch," says what happened and gives an indication of why without making assumptions. 

It leaves open that it could have been retaliatory, he could have been hungry or tired, etc. It still wasn't appropriate behavior, but gives more information which leads to more understanding of the situational aspect of the behavior. It also identifies a short period of inappropriate behavior rather than overreaching to include the whole day.

Providers also need to not take parents' concerns as a personal attack, criticism, or complaint. It is a concern about an issue that needs to be addressed. If a discussion devolves into this type of conversation, then it needs to be re-focused on the issue and solutions, not blame or attack. Someone has to be the bigger person and keep a clear and level head.

It is your business. You can run it as you wish and those parameters need to be clear in your Policies and Procedures and your clients need to be thoroughly briefed on those before even an interview is conducted. Policy and procedure issues should have very little contention if presented properly prior to contract. 

Issues that will arise that need to be addressed should revolve around the child, the school and home environments, home schedule changes, expectations of the child and developmental issues.

Last evening, Monday, I spent over half an hour discussing behavior issues with one of my parents. The child had had a couple of rough days at both school and home and we were trying to determine the source. Behavior in young children always has a source. The first behavior we discussed was his obsessive ownership over specific toys. 

While this child has obsessive tendencies, it was unusual for him to be so invested in ownership and, at 3 1/2, throwing screaming tantrums when any other child came near him or played with the items after he abandoned interest. 

I had been thinking about it and had come to the conclusion it had to be something that happened over the weekend to spark this behavior. Mom had been thinking about it and thought it may have been that they had children over to visit over the weekend. 

As we talked, it came about that we agreed that:
  • The parents had violated the "new Corvette" rule: they had forced him to share a brand new toy that he had worked for and was extremely special to him.
  • The visiting children had been allowed to play in his room, invading his space and making him feel violated.
  • He was forced to share his toys and space without limit or discussion.
We discussed that next time children visited that:
  • Communal toys should be ones he held no possession over, ones kept just for that purpose of playdates and/or ones that he had abandoned and had little interest in or knowledge of owning.
  • Playdates should be in a public area like a living room rather than private like his bedroom. The child can invite the other children into his personal space, but it should be at his invitation with no encouragement or coercion by parents.
  • Discussion should be made about any special toys the child might want to have put away for the visit or ones he would truly like to share.
  • My solution for here at school, was simply to remove the toys he was obsessing about. One of which, was his "new Corvette" dinosaur that he had to now leave at home.
We also discussed that though the parents' personalities were very open and social, that their child's personality was NOT, to their extent, and that they needed to recognize and respect their child's personal limits and boundaries. 

I discuss things like this with parent clients ALL. THE. TIME. Once we each understand the issue, and come up with some workable solution(s), then the child benefits, as well as everyone in the child's community. The consistency in expectations, and the core value of the child's mental and physical health being forefront between provider and parents, makes the child's life much richer and happier.

Another one of the moms, who I don't see regularly, was in for pick-up last week and brought up a couple of concerns about her son. We just stood around bouncing ideas and theories off of one another for about half an hour, and afterward, we felt we had a good understanding of what was going on and what could be done at school and home to make things better.

Issues that I have discussed with parents recently: the possibility of a preschooler having an auditory processing disorder, a toddler not sleeping through the night and night terrors, a baby wetting out even though the diaper size was upped a size, defiant rule breaking at home and school, a child self-identifying as bad when he doesn't get that information from school or home, potty training prep, a child's recent balance issues, consistency between school and home of vocabulary introduction and sign language for the 11-month-old. 

The children are very comfortable with ALL the parents,
and all the parents are comfortable with all the children.
Communication from me comes regularly through emailed newsletters/notifications, texts, Facebook posts, Youtube video posts, blog posts and verbal daily discussions both mornings and evenings. Clients are welcome to hang out here at any time during school hours, but I will put them to work as teacher's helpers. Clients are also welcome to meet with me after hours to discuss skill development and discipline issues more thoroughly with both parents present without the child[ren]. 

In Reggio, we are all about community, and that is between the children, but also between the children and the other families' members, including extended families, and me. I am on Facebook with most of my current and former clients, many of the grandparents, and some of the aunts and uncles. We have regular dinners where everyone can get to know one another, and often the families get together on the weekends for playdates and outings. This sense of community, which is sorely lacking in young children's lives these days, builds a trust and security that helps them be happier children and better citizens. 

It all begins with good communication.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Essential Preschool Math Skills

Even though I have training in curriculum, it still took me awhile to figure out the different types of math concepts that I needed to be integrating into my teaching, how, and when. I hope this will help others who are teaching or homeschooling preschool. 

One of my former students placed in the top 2% internationally in Math Olympiad. This is why...[in addition to her just being exceptionally smart!]

The main math skills I will cover here pertain to numeracy and are:
  • Pattern recognition & sorting/classification
  • Subitizing/quantification
  • One-to-one correspondence counting
  • Rote counting
  • Counting on
  • Grid counting
  • Scatter counting
Note that on this list is NOT learning number names. This goes with my functional learning method. Knowing the name of a number 1 is not functional. It is vocabulary. Knowing the order or quantity for the number 1 allows for functional mathematical ability. The children all learn that a 1 is called a one, but incidentally, not as a focus of teaching.

This post goes to the next level from my Teaching 2's Math post which was a level up from my Learning Math From Birth. You may also want to read my post Early Math is as Important as Early Literacy

Math, especially, needs to be hands-on learning through play and manipulation in the early years. We are currently on our EGG unit, which is math intensive. This allows you to see some ideas on how to integrate the skill learning into a unit or theme.

These children, 2-3 years old, know their basic colors and can count to 10 in order to do the activities.


I put these skills together because they are complimentary skills. They both are observation and interpretation of where things belong. If a child can't sort/classify, then they can't complete a pattern activity, and sorting and classification are patterning activities. 

The ability to recognize patterns is considered the NUMBER ONE key indicator for future math success. I start this in infancy, patting out song rhythms on their back or with their feet to music playing along. It builds that ability to begin linking patterns to their world. I use repetitive patterns, audio, physical or visual, for most of my infant and early toddler learning play, specifically to enhance this ability. 

It works. My preschoolers can sort, categorize, and pattern forward and backward much earlier and better than their peers who have not had this early exposure. 

Activity: The children create their own pattern and then extend it out in either direction until they run out of eggs.

Patterning is not just a preschool skill activity. There are patterns everywhere - in the seasons, in our daily schedule, even our daily routines. It allows children to be able to tell time in a general way even as infants. It leads to understanding quantities of time such as weeks, months, years. It allows them to know that we always wash our hands before eating or brush our teeth before going to bed. Those are patterns. There are patterns in nature, music, and daily life. As they enter the preschool era, we work more hands-on and intentionally with creating and manipulating physical patterns.

Activity: The children gather eggs as fast as they can, then sort their eggs by color. For younger children, I might have colored bowls or color circles to assist. We are working on grid formations, so that is why theirs are sorted like this.

Sorting and categorization are naturally occurring. They know farm animals from zoo animals. Red cars are sorted from yellow cars. Blue blocks are suddenly preferred and everything is made up only of blue blocks. As we advance, opportunities are created for more advanced sorting and categorization on more than one trait. Red/green/purple circles that are also small/medium/large. Then throw in a few blue squares of the sizes and see how they handle that. 


This is the ability to instantly recognize quantities. It starts as soon as you begin asking a child if they want MORE. More/less, big/small and their counterparts are all quantifications that toddlers learn. Around three they are learning to recognize a quantity of at least 1-3 objects as being that amount just by looking at it. This is an important mathematical, observation and spatial skill that is often overlooked. The only way to enhance this skill is to give children a ton of opportunities to practice it in grid formation and scatter groups. "Look, you have 3 blocks lined up!" "I see you have 3 cars in your hands." "Do you want 2 or 3 pieces?" and have the groups of 2 and 3 laid out for them to see.

Activity: Bring me 2 eggs the SAME color. Bring me 2 PAIRS of eggs. 2 eggs + 2 eggs is how many all together? Bring me 3 DIFFERENT color eggs. 

Dice play in later preschool and pre-k really works this skill.

However, quantification BEGINS by getting them comfortable with assessing quantities. This is smaller/larger, more/less, smaller/bigger, shorter/taller.  

It also carries over to categorization/sorting and patterning. Being able to tell a specific quantity, first comes from being able to assess the quantity.


While rote counting to 100 wins the accolades, the whole purpose of math is to count THINGS. Even as infants, I have their little fingers touching bunnies in a book as we count them and everything else we can one-to-one correspond. We count, with fingers touching the items we are counting, multiple times a day from the first day they arrive. It is ingrained.

This ability leads to accurate counting, an ability to practice subitizing/quantification on their own, and an ability to do equations much earlier. 

Activity: Once sorted by color, children count how many of each color they have. Then the eggs are combined and again counted by color for the group. Subitizing is encouraged on individual small quantities. Quantity comparisons of same/equal, more, less, how many more, how many less, etc. can be performed.


Rote counting is the ability to count in numerical order. Seems simple, but it is more difficult and important that children understand that the order has permanence. Numbers occur in order. Always. I have a 2-year-old that just counted to 13. He then skipped up to 15, 16, 17, 19, 20. Still in order, even though he skipped a couple, showing that he has that concept understood. 

We count here multiple times a day, at least once a day to 100. With toddlers, we do 1-2-3 as the focus, and do it multiple times a day until they get it. When they have that down, then I work to 5, then 10, then 11, then 13, then 16, then 20. Then we learn to count by 10's before moving on to counting to 100. Eleven is the hardest because they hear 1-10 SO much from parents and in the shows they watch [AT HOME.] I try not to do that here, which is why we do various counts throughout the day and week.

Rote counting and one-to-one correspondence must be mastered to some degree before other math and science skills can be mastered.

It is so ingrained here, that I just caught this one counting the stripes on his socks as he laid down for nap. It's just what we do. 

Activity: Incubating eggs takes 21 days, exactly the number we are working on for rote counting. 11-19 are the most difficult numbers to master, and this gives us the opportunity to count those on a daily basis for 21 days. We count how many days the chicks need to develop, how many days have passed, and how many day until they hatch. Working rote counting and number recognition. 

This is an example of how number recognition happens without it being a main objective. The objective is counting.


This is the beginning of addition and future understanding of equations. It is an extension of rote counting and one-to-one correspondence. You have 3 items and another two are added, you can continue on from 3 to count 4, 5. This is NOT an easy skill to master. They want to go back and now count the whole group, until it clicks. This takes a lot of exposure and practice, but a child that can subitize/quantify then count on has a higher level of numeracy and mathematical understanding from which to scaffold.

Activity: When doing 10-frame counting, try to get them to begin counting after subitizing a smaller amount. Also when doing fact families of lower numbers. Here we are doing fact families of 5, and I ask them to subitize and count on from the smallest quantity. This requires direct instruction. This is an activity they can do independently, to a quantity they are familiar with manipulating. The older ones will automatically go to 10-frame.


The current math [Common Core circa 2018] is almost entirely based on 10. Ten frames are used exhaustively. So what used to be just an easier way to line up and count items, now becomes a focused effort to get preschoolers to line items into ten frame organization, which is a grid. 

Understanding rows and columns, creating and reading charts, is actually very easy for even young preschoolers to master. I begin by using the actual items and eventually move it to a white board. Once they reach school, the same concept will be used on endless worksheets [sigh.] 

Additionally, if preschoolers get the concept of grid layouts early, multiplication and division makes absolute sense to preschoolers, and often they figure it out on their own. It also helps with the concept of skip counting that they will need to master in elementary school.

Grid counting here begins when I line up items for a toddler or early preschooler to rote count easily using one-to-one correspondence. I do make certain that they count vertically as well as horizontally, such as stacked blocks. These are some former pre-k students doing the same at a higher level. As play. Their ability to read and interpret graphs was amazing.

It also helps with addition and subtraction as I can split objects into linear groups to show fact families and the permanence of the count.


Scatter counting is figuring out a methodology of counting a scattered group of objects. It's pretty difficult. Different children do it differently. Whatever works for them. Left-right, top-bottom, or physically moving items from an uncounted grouping to a counted grouping. I show them all the ways and let them figure out what works best for themselves. This takes a lot of exposure and practice. They begin as toddlers as I hold their fingers and we count flowers in a book, worms on the ground, freckles on a face, etc. 

Since mine learn it in conjunction with rote counting and one-to-one correspondence counting, they pick it up fairly easily. The main issue is getting them to slow down and pay attention enough to be accurate. Even if I just observe them doing it in play on their own, if they do it wrong, I have them do it over again until they get it correct. This is one skill that needs accuracy reinforced.

Activity: Place items in a bowl so that linear or grid formation is not possible then have them count the items. Different colors, especially in easily subitized quantities, is easier than all different colors or all one color. This is an activity they can do independently.

These are the skills that make other skills possible - time, measurement, geometry beyond simple shapes, fractions, etc. 

These are the skills that I want, at minimum, for my preschool graduates to have mastered.

However, start them young and you'll be surprised what they can achieve...

Even at 3.75 years of age, my preschoolers are able to reach beyond these preschool-level skills. We have been spending a lot of focus on measuring recently, which they love. 

For this unit, we started with 3 different sizes of eggs. We discussed how they were the size of a duck, goose and ostrich egg. We discussed how the goose-size blue egg could be small, medium or large depending on which other egg(s) it was compared to in size. We then started to measure. The main objective was to learn about circumference. 

We started with measuring the eggs.

Then ourselves.

Then special visitor sock monkey couldn't be left out.

Then we worked on heights.

Width and diameter.

Once again, measuring was the goal, but number recognition, number order, and quantity comparisons were integrated. 

They were allowed to play and do the activity unsupervised after our introductory session.

You can see the level of engagement and curiosity. Make it fun, and they don't even know how much they are learning.