Giving preschoolers the tools they need to be successful in math is essential. A robust preschool math curriculum will include instruction in all five disciplines of math. This includes teaching preschoolers within the data analysis and probability discipline; aka: graphing for preschoolers.
This is your ultimate guide to teach preschoolers all about collecting data, organizing it, and of course, reading graphs.
What You Need to Know About Teaching Graphing to Preschoolers
Teaching within the data analysis and probability math discipline takes careful planning. During the preschool years, teaching within this math discipline typically focuses on graphing skills. This is your ultimate guide to becoming a successful parent-teacher in graphing to your preschooler.
Because giving your preschooler a solid foundation in data analysis and probability is more than just moving a name marker during question of the day.
What is Graphing for Preschoolers?
Simply put, graphing is a visual way of organizing and recording mathematical information. Graphs show you information by using an image or pictures. The information shown is called data.
In preschool, graphing skills include:
- measurement of data
- use of appropriate materials to analyze data
- predicative use of data
As do all the other strands of mathematics, the study of graphs provides a foundation for more advanced data analysis concepts that will be explored and learned in the later years.
But can preschoolers really “analyze data”?
Children actually begin analyzing data from their earliest explorations in play. They are constantly taking in raw data through their senses.
By the age of 3-4 months, infants search for a milk-producing nipple when hungry and reject other objects placed in their mouths, indicating the mental categories of milk-producing and non-milk-producing have already been formed.Source
As children develop throughout the preschool years, they appear to sort and organize data purely for their own enjoyment. Young preschoolers might make lines of toy cars grouped by colors even though nobody suggested it to them. Children often create “parades” of animals, grouped by types of animal or ordered by size.
As expected, the toys and manipulatives in a child’s environment become their data. They group, rearrange, compare, and quantify these environmental materials as they explore and play.
Older preschoolers and kindergarteners become increasingly aware of their peer’s opinions and they become invested in voting activities that direct outcomes of tasks.
- What should the class have for snack today?
- Which color do you like better, red or purple?
- Who is wearing stripes today?
- What is your favorite zoo animal?
Teachers can tally these votes in class graphs so that children can more easily quantify and compare the answers.
There is Some Overlap in Graphing and Sorting Skills
Graphing activities in preschool often are overlooked because they are not a part of the three major focal points in preschool math education. Often, preschools focus primarily on counting and number identification (number sense), shapes (geometry) and sorting (algebra).
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics consider graphing skills important for preschoolers because of the overlap in data analysis and other disciplines like algebra, number sense, and measurement. For example, the rules created for sorting and classifying a set of objects connects graphing to the algebraic discipline. Quantifying the data connects to measurement and number sense.
What types of graphs can preschoolers learn?
There are several different types of graphs, not all of which will be appropriate to teach in preschool. Here are the graph types that preschoolers will have most success with.
- bar graph (vertical and horizontal)
- line graph
- tally chart
- pie chart
With the right instruction, preschoolers are capable of reading and even creating bar, line, and pictographs.
While a preschooler might be able to make generalizations of a pie chart (which piece has more or less), it is unlikely that a preschooler would be able to create an accurate pie chart on their own. Many preschoolers can quantify tally charts, however most preschoolers cannot create one on their own.
It is important to note that while the terms graphs and charts are often used interchangeably, they do differ. You can read more about the differences in this article.
Learning to Graph is Really Important, and Here is Why
Data analysis and probability wouldn’t be one of the five math disciplines if it wasn’t important. That means that graphing wouldn’t be included if it wasn’t important. The goal of teaching math to preschoolers is to teach them skills that will help them be critical thinkers and creative questioners.
Learning how to read graphs, and perhaps even create their own graph, is one means to an end goal. But let’s dive a little deeper into why graphing is important for preschoolers.
- Sorting and classifying data is a means of organizing important information.
- Graphing teaches comparison in numbers and quantities.
- Analyzing data deepens understanding of other math disciplines.
But let’s take this a step further. The points above are simplified for preschoolers. Like in all other math disciplines, early childhood educators are constructing the mathematical foundation preschoolers will need further in their academic careers to deepen understanding.
For example, here are real-life applications of how and why adults analyze data in our everyday lives:
- save time and money
- predict and anticipate needs
- mitigate risk
- personalize products and services
- allow for real-time interactions
- optimize consumer experience
- detect of errors
- guide automations
To be more on point, data analysis skills allow for messy, unstructured data to be processed and analyzed so we can draw insights and discover hidden patterns from it. These patterns guide us to make decisions.
How do Preschoolers Develop Graphing Skills?
The research in early childhood education is limited on development sequence norms in the data analysis discipline. However, preschool and kindergarten teachers who was deliberately used graphing as a part of their curriculum provide anecdotal information.
The following is a sequence of preschool graphing activities that most children respond positively to.
- comparing sets and groups of real items
- comparing groups via pictures
- using symbolic representation
It’s important to note that the above progression begins with hands-on, tangible and concrete data and moves to more abstract representations. When designing graphing lesson plans for preschoolers, it is critical to start with real-life objects or manipulatives and gradually move on to symbolic representations.
What Are Some Tips for Teaching Graphing to Preschoolers?
For success in teaching your preschooler graphing skills, try some of these tips:
- Provide authentic and real-life experience as often as possible.
- Identify data by using multiple examples (graphing, tallies, counting marbles in a jar, etc.).
- Encourage students to talk about math and explain their thinking, even if their answer is wrong. This helps develop mathematical thinking and questioning.
- Compare real life data examples (graphing personal activities like what was played at recess, filling in tracking sheets for progress).
- Allow for practice of reading graphs in addition to creating graphs, and lots of it. One popular activity is Question of the Day.
- Provide manipulatives for problem solving, rather than pencils and paper.
- Ask leading questions when teaching.
Get the Daily Lessons in Graphing Preschool Unit
Remove all the overwhelm from teaching graphing to preschoolers by following these easy, step-by-step graphing lesson plans. You’ll get four weeks of daily graphing lessons to do with your preschooler, plus bonus activities, teaching tips, literacy integration activities and even weekly printable preschool centers.
This unit is systematic, which means the skills progress in a way that is developmentally appropriate for preschoolers. And, everything is hands-on and fun!
Free Graphing Activities for Preschoolers
There are loads of creative ways to add graphing activities to your preschool day. Here are some of our favorite free graphing printables. Add these to your preschool math centers or small group math activities.
The Secrets of Teaching Math to Preschoolers
Teaching math is an enormous task, and with the new changes in adopted state standards the bar for teachers has risen even higher.
That’s because there is a lot that goes into teaching math.
It’s comprehensive and systematic. And graphing is only one piece of the puzzle.
Mathematicians indicate there are five disciplines of math (like mentioned above) that should be taught, which are as follows:
- number sense – the development of a deep understanding of numbers and the number system, to compose and decompose numbers and understand their various relationships
- algebra – the understanding of patterns and relationships, including sorting and categorizing
- geometry – the understanding of spatial relationships, prepositional terms, and the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes
- measurement – the ability to make comparisons and order, understanding measurable attributes
- data analysis and probability – (you are here) understanding data as a means of sharing organized information and understanding that certain variables affect data
Get Daily Lessons in Preschool Mathematics
Remember how I said that teaching math to preschoolers is systematic? That means you can’t put the cart before the horse. When it comes to teaching math, the skills need to be taught at the right time and in the right order.
Make teaching preschool math easy with done-for-you Daily Lessons in the Preschool Mathematics Curriculum.
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I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.