Children as young as 3 may enjoy solving simple word problems. You can give preschoolers opportunities to work with word problems related to their investigations, daily activities, and things they are curious about: money, toys, or objects the class has collected during a project. (See Illinois Early Learning and Development Benchmarks 6.A.ECa Count with understanding and recognize “how many” in small sets up to 5., 6.A.ECc Understand and appropriately use informal or everyday terms that mean zero, such as “none” or “nothing”., 6.A.ECd Connect numbers to quantities they represent using physical models and informal representations., 6.B.ECa Recognize that numbers (or sets of objects) can be combined or separated to make another number., and 6.B.ECd Informally solve simple mathematical problems presented in a meaningful context..)

- For example, you might say, “Taylor had 2 keys. He found 2 more. How many keys does Taylor have now?”
- For an added challenge, you could reverse the “known” and “unknown” amounts. “Yesterday, Taylor had 2 keys. He found some more keys and now he has 4. How many keys did he find?”

**Some preschoolers can work on simple subtraction or “take-away” problems.**

- For example, you might say, “Sascha had 3 pennies. Two of them rolled away. Now how many does he have?
- Reverse the known and unknown amounts sometimes. “One of Sascha’s pennies rolled away. He has two pennies left. How many did he start with?”

**Many preschoolers can work with zero. **

- You might say, for example, “Rani had 5 shiny rocks. Five of them got lost. How many shiny rocks does Rani have left?”
- Try reversing “known” and “unknown” amounts. “Rani had 5 shiny rocks. She lost some and now she has zero shiny rocks. How many got lost?”

- Speak clearly when you pose a word problem. Give children plenty of time to think, and be willing to repeat the problem.
- Let children use objects to work out the problem and to check their answers.
- When a child answers a word problem, ask her, “How did you get your answer?” The way a child thinks about a problem can be just as important as having a “right” answer.
- Keep in mind that two or three problems at a time will be enough for many preschoolers.

**Children can progress from simple to complex problems.
**

- Start with amounts of 5 or less for beginners. Increase the total amounts when you see that children are catching on.
- When a child can answer simple word problems quickly, try more complex questions. “Winona collected 3 acorns. One got lost. Then she found 2 more acorns. How many does she have now?”

- Early Math: The Next Big Thing
- Early Childhood Mathematics: Promoting Good Beginnings
- Algebra in the Early Years? Yes!

- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: Beginning Numbers
- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: Classification
- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: Geometric Thinking for Young Children
- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: Measurement with Young Children
- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: More Numbers
- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: More Word Problems for Preschoolers
- IEL Tip Sheet: Path to Math: Real Graphs for Preschoolers

The opinions, resources, and referrals provided on the IEL Web site are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to take the place of medical or legal advice, or of other appropriate services. We encourage you to seek direct local assistance from a qualified professional if necessary before taking action.

The content of the IEL Web site does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education; nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the Illinois Early Learning Project, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the Illinois State Board of Education.