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When should kids start learning math?

Innovations in math education

Efforts to change math education in America date back to the 1880s. However, as New York Times reporter Elizabeth Greene says, "The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices." It seems that every time someone comes up with a new way to teach math, the pendulum swings back to the starting position. Different methods go by different names — rote memorization, historical method, problem-solving, New Math — and an accredited master's in math education program should cover a variety of methods. A recurring question across all these methods, though, is: "At what age should kids begin learning math?"

Preschool math education

Conventional wisdom has held that preschoolers are too young to grasp math education. However, current research into brain science points to the opposite conclusion. As Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins writes, "By the time they are preschool age, students … can grasp simple addition — three beads plus four beads makes seven beads — even if they can't yet write the equations." Master's in math education programs are paying heed to research about children's brain development and are offering courses in how to teach younger students basic math concepts.

While centuries of math education have given us numerous methods, educators only recently have begun to teach preschool children math. Simple concepts such as addition and subtraction are covered through games in the classroom. Surprisingly, the educational gains from early math education extend to reading, as well. Higgins writes, "Northwestern University professor Greg Duncan and others found that math skills in kindergarten predict third-grade test scores in both reading and math." While researchers have yet to explain the connections among the data, the results are promising for early math education.

Learn more about UT Arlington’s online M.Ed. in Math Education program.


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