Understanding how children think about and solve math problems helps promote early math development. The goal is to learn as much as possible about children’s math thinking by asking questions and responding flexibly to the child’s answers. A simple question such as, “How many are there?” can lead to insightful conversations about addition and subtraction. To encourage deeper thinking, caregivers can ask open-ended follow-up questions like: “How do you know? How can we figure it out? What do you notice?”

A key feature of math thinking conversations is to follow the child’s response wherever it leads. If the child uses an unusual method to solve a problem, gives a surprising answer, or makes a mistake, continue to explore the child’s thinking. This video is an example of a conversation that uncovers children’s thinking about addition and subtraction ideas.