Teaching small children math is more than teaching them how to count with their fingers and their toes. They need to learn how to apply counting to real world situations. I have come across children who can count out loud with the class just fine and even alone they are pretty awesome, but when it is time to count objects they have a hard time translating the skill.
It is important that there are many ways in which you introduce math concepts to children. Not just the rote memory way of practicing counting. One of the activities from this months theme from Mother Goose Time was building trails with the cubes that came with this months curriculum. It came with a trail pattern card and the children were given the sheet so they could build the pattern. What it led to them doing was creating their own patterns and counting. The counting of the cubes was not something that was automatically in the instructions. The children were sitting at the center and decided to split the blocks and began to count them out to their friends so they could be even. During this activity you could hear them telling each other to "slow down", "have patience". I am very proud of the strides they have made as they learn to count in the higher digits.
Another Activity that they loved was the plant a forest activity from day 8. The children loved the activity of creating a pattern with the trees. It wasn't just about the colors, it was about the different sizes of the trees also. They counted the number of light green trees and dark green trees and then proceeded to separate them by size. This is all good math skills that the children are learning from the activities given to the children from the curriculum.
As you can see the blocks given in the theme have been a favorite of the children and have made their way from the math basket to the other areas of the classroom. They have used them in the household area as pretend foods, they have built igloos with with them and they used them to build towers. They have also used them to help measure the pine cones after we were done with that center.
This is what teachers mean when they say that play is important for preschool children. They are introducing the concepts to them and then giving them free time so they can use the skills. Math is one of those important skills for preschoolers that has to be practiced and fine tuned through play.