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Implementing Math Shelf With Three-Year-Olds


Three-year-olds cognitive and motor skills are in the early stages of development. It's therefore important to have developmentally appropriate expectations when three year olds play Math Shelf.   Please try the following recommendations:

1.  Create Shorter Play Sessions 

Offering shorter Math Shelf play sessions --  3 and 5 minutes per session -- will align better with three year olds' developing attention span.  Shorter play sessions are also an opportunity for teachers to remind younger learners to focus and pay attention when they play Math Shelf. 

2. Teacher and Assistant Teacher Support

While 4 and 5 year old students can play Math Shelf independently, three year olds often benefit when the teacher or instructional assistant sits and interacts with them.  Teacher presence, guidance, and praise helps three year olds focus and communicates to children the importance of learning math. 

Watch the teacher below give support to her 3-year-old Math Shelf student.


3.  Build Confidence

Learning new skills involves effort.  Some three year olds may get frustrated and give up.  Encourage children to play and repeat their favorite Math Shelf games to build their confidence.   There's a reason for the saying, "Success breeds success!"   When young children succeed, they will be more likely to exert the effort needed for new learning challenges.

4.  Set Reasonable Math Knowledge Expectations

End of year math knowledge expectations for three year olds are: understanding numbers to 6, recognizing and naming basic shapes, and demonstrating pre-math skills like matching, sorting, identifying colors, and understanding patterns.  Every three year old that plays Math Shelf twice a week for 3 to 5 minutes each session should master these math skills by the end of the school year.  


Teaching math to three-year-olds requires persistence, patience and lots of encouragement.  Celebrate each child's effort, and remember that you are setting students on the path to future math success.