Because math is entirely abstract in nature, despite its description of real world measures, teaching math to four year olds is challenging. Unfortunately, young children are only beginning to develop the cognitive abilities required to perceive even basic abstract concepts and thinking when they start learning math. On the flip side, learning math can help the development of these cognitive abilities. Teaching numbers and basic operations, such as addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication, to four year olds, therefore, requires making these concepts more concrete.
Accordingly, the first step in teaching math to the youngest of students involves understanding what numbers represent. The challenge is in demonstrating that numbers are simply sequential representations for a certain amount of physical objects or ideas. Giving children the tools they need to grasp this concept requires the use of any group of objects as well as a number line. Nothing is more sequential than a number line, so putting a simple ruler in front of young children helps them recognize the meaning of each number as they count out their favorite toys or snack.
With more concrete teaching aides in hand, the developing brain of a four year old child does not have to stress over grasping every abstract element of the math. Teaching the concepts of addition and subtraction are particularly easy when using something like a ruler. If the student needs to see addition, objects like toy cars can be added to a pile while a marker on the ruler is moved to the right. The inverse is true for subtraction. Meanwhile, jumping over a gap of numbers and starting out at known sums, i.e. the values we can readily add in our heads, helps students recognize the shortcuts they will eventually need to become more proficient in math.
Meanwhile, applying math to real life allows both teachers and parents to help young students become better mathematicians. Four year old children, in particular, can easily find ways to apply their math knowledge to real life. Simply asking them to count out pieces of a snack or adding a certain number of dishes to the table are a couple of easy options. By turning math into a useful, concrete topic, young children will learn faster and develop the cognitive abilities they need to understand more abstract concepts. For young children, this usually means slightly more challenging concepts like multiplication and division, but parents should not push their children to grow beyond their capacity.
In regards to multiplication and division, a number line is a bit cumbersome when it comes to showing values being multiplied. In fact, it may be useful to start off by teaching the concept of division. Because items like candy or toys can be divided quickly and easily, even four year old children may be able to grasp the division concept. Multiplication can then be shown as the reverse operation, thus demonstrating piles coming back together is an excellent start to teaching this very abstract concept. From there, more traditional methods like sorting columns can potentially be used to, at least, introduce young children to more abstract forms of math.
Moreover, teaching math skills to students, or pre-students, at the age of four is a tedious process. The reason is that these youngsters are just developing the abilities they need to build their theoretical understanding of the world. Math is entirely abstract and young students need to develop the proper cognitive abilities necessary to comprehend these abstract constructs and relationships. As such, teaching children basic math skills and improving their cognitive abilities revolve around making math concepts like numbers and adding more concrete. Where a connection cannot be made immediately, however, parents must give their child a little more time to develop properly.