How Math Skills Impact Student Development

Instructor: Tawnya Eash

Tawnya has a master's degree in early childhood education and teaches all subjects at an elementary school.

How important are math skills at an early age? That's what we are going to answer as you take a look at this lesson to see the strong impact math skills make on development.

Developing Math Skills at an Early Age

Did you know that learning math skills at an early age creates a basic foundation for everything a child learns in the future? Experiences and learning that take place in the first few years of a child's life greatly influence development.

Learning early math will help a child think critically and problem solve. Early math, or the basic math concepts, involves counting, quantities, shapes, spatial relationships, measurement, and patterns.

For example, Parker is 2 years old and already shows signs of understanding early math as he:

  • Sorts shapes into a bin
  • Identifies when there is more than one ball
  • Counts from 1-5
  • Acknowledges that there are numbers on his race car
  • Asks for 'more' food or drink
  • Points out circles, stars, and hearts when prompted

As he continues to develop these math skills, he is growing in other ways as well. Let's take a look at specific ways early math impacts development for pre-k students.

Impact on Development

Research shows that development of math skills is a better indicator of future success in reading and math than any other skill. It's very important to give pre-k students the opportunity to develop early math skills so that they can achieve and continually develop in a variety of areas.

Social/Emotional Development

Talking about numbers and shapes while playing with an adult helps a child develop interpersonal skills. As your preschool students learn math through small group and partner activities, they will learn off of others as well as figure out appropriate interactions with peers.

Emotional development can be encouraged through the following example:

  • A student points out circles, stars, squares, triangles, and hearts in a book that the teacher is reading. The teacher claps for him and tells him he did a great job.

In this quick interaction, the student will gain trust in his teacher and a sense of accomplishment, which builds up his confidence.


As mentioned in the beginning of this lesson, there is a direct correlation between early math and cognitive development. A study at Stanford University actually determined that the brain goes through a physical change as it creates specific connections after repeated practice with math skills.

As part of cognitive development, students should build upon the following concepts:

  • Number sense - counting and one-to-one correspondence
    • Example: How many gummy bears are on the table?
  • Patterns - logical order of things
    • Example: Changes of trees through the seasons
  • Representation - math becomes real
    • Example: Counting to give every person a toy
  • Measurement - measuring various objects for length, width, height, weight, amounts, time, money
    • Example: Adding two full cups of flour while baking
  • Spatial Sense - shape, size, space, position, direction and movement
    • Example: Turning puzzle pieces around so they fit
  • Estimation - good guess about the size of something
    • Example: That cookie is bigger than this one.
  • Problem solving - think through a problem and maybe solve it in more than one way
    • Example: Turning a play tool around in another direction so it fits in the tool belt

Take a look at the chart to see how developing early math affects future learning.

Impact of Early Math
Early math

Young students will be able to apply these early math skills to other content areas of cognitive development. For example, problem-solving is a skill that is necessary when exploring concepts in science, math, reading, writing, and social studies.


Students in the pre-k setting, need to develop fine and gross motor skills. Using blocks and other manipulatives can help with fine motor skills. Trying to put beads on a string in a certain order, or sorting pipe cleaners by color into a cup, will help students with math skills as well as with the ability to practice hand-eye coordination. These developments are helpful in the future as students utilize math tools such as templates to trace geometrical shapes, protractors to measure angles, and compasses to create circles.

Getting kids moving helps students develop gross motor skills and stay focused! The following scenarios would help students develop gross motor skills:

  • Doing a physical activity after rolling an action dice that tells them a specific number and action that needs completed, such as jumping 5 times
  • Repeating steps to a dance while pointing out the pattern

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