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Implementing Math Shelf With Three-Year-Olds


When it comes to teaching math to three-year-olds, it's a unique journey filled with excitement and challenges. Three-year-olds are like sponges, absorbing knowledge and experiences at an astonishing rate. However, their cognitive and motor skills are still in the early stages of development. That's why it is important to have developmentally appropriate expectations when three year olds play Math Shelf. 

Shorter Play Sessions 

Offering shorter Math Shelf play sessions --  3 and 5 minutes -- 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. 

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 stay focused, and communicates to children the importance of learning early math. 

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

HubSpot Video



Keep in mind that learning rarely follows a straight line.  In addition, learning involves effort.  Some young learners may get frustrated and give up quickly, especially if they lack the confidence and knowledge to move on.  Teachers may also observe periods when three year olds want to repeat their favorite Math Shelf games over and over again.   Allow your three year olds to repeat.  The repetition is likely building their confidence, and preparing them to exert effort for new learning challenges that will arise.

Math Knowledge Expectations for 3 Year Olds

End of year math knowledge expectations for three year olds are: understanding numbers to 6, recognizing and naming basic shapes, and demonstrating pre-math skill knowledge such as matching, sorting, identifying colors, sequencing objects, and understanding simple patterns.  Every three year old that plays Math Shelf twice a week for 3 to 5 minutes per session should master these math skills by the end of the school year.  Don't rush your three year olds!  

In Conclusion

Teaching math to three-year-olds can be an incredibly rewarding experience when approached with patience and understanding.  Celebrate each child's effort, and remember that you are setting students on the path to future math success.