When you think of graphing, you probably think back to stale worksheets in your third grade class, or to more complicated parabolas in high school calculus. Graphing starts out as a very simple concept, one that can and should be explored with preschool children, particularly the four year-olds. One of my favorite ways to do that is with a Post-it graph.
The easiest way to start with the concept of graphing is to chart the number of boys vs number of girls in a group. It is a clear-cut dichotomy (in preschool anyway :)) . Start by having the children look around. Do they think there are more boys or more girls? In a larger group, this is often harder to do just by looking. We need to organize the information to make it easier to compare. Show your prepared chart, with a grid divided between boys and girls. Explain to the children that you will be using this grid to graph how many boys and how many girls are in your class. Ask each of the girls, one by one, to come up, get a Post-it and place it on the chart above the “Girls” label. Remind them that each person only gets one sticker, and that when we build a graph, we climb up the chart like a ladder: one sticker per square. Next, invite the boys to do the same thing.
Once all of the Post-its are up, ask if the children can tell, just by looking at the graph if there are more boys or more girls. Often, they will quickly acknowledge that the tallest line represents more. Next, invite them to count each group to compare to each other and to verify the first answer.
This activity not only introduces graphing in a very basic way, but also incorporates counting, sorting, and categorizing, all of which are important preschool math skills!
You can use Post-its to make other graphs based on the children’s input, such as socks and no socks, pets and no pets, or how many brothers and how many sisters each student has. Once your children have experience with graphing only two groups, you can go on to multiple answers: which of three apple flavors; tie shoes, velcro shoes, buckle shoes, and slip-ons; or eye color. Graphs can be used in a myriad of ways to help preschoolers sort information and make it concrete and visual. By using Post-its to do it, you can make grids, laminate them if you wish, and use them multiple times quickly and easily!