Big Ideas in early math

From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ five content strands, we’ve identified a number of big ideas young children should explore.

Content strand Sample Big Idea
algebra green arrow A single collection of objects can always be sorted in more than one way.
number & operations green arrow Number names allow us to tell how many are in a set.
geometry green arrow Two shapes can be combined to make another shape.
measurement green arrow Comparisons can show which is bigger, but they have to be fair.
data analysis green arrow Collecting and organizing data makes it easier to answer questions.


Collectively, these Big Ideas provide a comprehensive list of mathematical knowledge and concepts that provide a basis for developing the more complex thinking and use of symbols that will begin in the primary grades.

The intention is not that children will be able to recite or even necessarily understand all the Big Ideas. Children should, however, have structured opportunities to discover and explore these concepts during their preschool and kindergarten years. The list is meant to guide the thinking of teachers as they plan curriculum and design activities.

Example: Big Ideas in Algebraic Thinking (.pdf)

It’s working

We’re making a difference in children’s math skills. Our research shows that children in the classrooms of teachers in the project learn more about math during the school year than children whose teachers did not participate.

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