Introducing young children to the idea of graphing helps them to organize data in a way they can see and touch. The graphs they create are models or tools that allow them to generalize, compare and further analyze two or more sets of data.
Here are some simple ideas for graphing for preschoolers.
What are Graphing Skills?
Preschoolers learn many different types of skills related to maths through graphing fun.
Why is Graphing Important for Preschoolers?
Graphing for kids in preschool is important because it helps to grab their interest in related mathematical concepts.
This leads to more complicated graphing in the elementary grades, along with other higher-order mathematical thinking skills.
How Do You Explain Graphing to Preschoolers?
Graphing can be a very abstract concept, so it’s best to avoid using worksheets when introducing these ideas.
Use fun and relevant objects to jump into graphing, such as toys, personal items and snacks. These objects can then be represented with pictures.
Challenge the children to compare two sets of objects, such as toy cars and toy trucks that are of similar sizes.
Show two piles and have them guess which one has more. Then count the two piles, making a line of cars and a line of trucks. This is a real-world bar graph.
Point out that if the vehicles come in different sizes, lining them up to see which line is longer is not always the best way to prove which is more.
Show them how to make two paper grids, setting one vehicle in each box to see which grid line has the most filled boxes. Square floor tiles also work well for this step. Restate that each filled box stands for one car or truck.
As they grasp this concept, you can also show the children that a square could be coloured on a paper grid to stand for each vehicle counted, creating a representational bar graph, another way to show the results.
Fun Graphing Activities for Preschoolers
Whenever possible, use hands-on items that children enjoy or those that hold personal interest.
For each of these activities that follow, a paper graph can also be made to express the results from the hands-on experience.
1. We are a Graph!
Use the children as the data sets, sorting them by two or three characteristics: boy/girl, long sleeves/short sleeves/no sleeves, or light hair/dark hair/red hair.
Kids join the appropriate line. Tiled floors are great, in that they offer a simple grid where the children can stand or sit.
2. It’s a Shoo-In
Ask kids to each take off one shoe, which always brings a few giggles.
Graph the results to compare the number of tie shoes and other popular fasteners, such as hook & loop, zippers or buckles.
3. Ice Cream Favourites
Children choose a favourite ice cream between two or three common flavours, such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
On the grid, set coloured paper for the ice cream and cones or use actual cones with fluffy pom poms inserted to represent the ice cream scoops. Follow up with a yummy ice cream party!
4. Track the Weather
Discuss the weather each day: sunny, cloudy, rainy, snowy or windy. Pick the characteristic that most clearly expresses that day and fill in a graph with the picture to represent that weather condition.
Compare the results at the end of the week.
5. Fruity Graphs
Gather various fruits from the counter and refrigerator, or borrow fruits from lunchboxes if doing this activity at school.
Arrange them on a graph grid to count and compare.
6. Loose Parts Graphing
Use different types of loose parts to form graphs by various attributes, such as size, colour and shape.
7. Favourite Stuffies
Invite children to choose their favourite stuffed animals to take part in a graphing activity.
These could be graphed by various characteristics: colour, animal type, size or land/air/water.
8. Survey Pocket Chart
A pocket chart works well to show the results of a survey question, such as, “What is your favourite zoo animal?”
Different animals are shown on cards slipped into pockets along the bottom of the chart. Each child has a card with their name and picture. They vote and add their cards to the pockets, forming a graph of results.
This same idea can then be used with any type of survey question.
9. Crayon Colours
Children choose one favourite colour of crayon from buckets with limited choices to avoid too many results.
They place them on a grid to compare the results.
10. Marbles in a Jar
Use two identical clear jars to compare the number of coloured marbles added.
These can be based just on the colours or can stand for something else, such as yellow added for sunny days and white added for cloudy.
Discuss how far up in the jars the marbles reach. Then count for an exact comparison.
11. Picture Postcards
Invite kids to each bring in one picture postcard.
Organize into a graph based on those that picture people, animals, buildings and nature scenes.
12. Books We Love
After reading several picture books, have children choose their favourite to show in a graph.
Small cut-outs of the book covers add real-world authenticity.
13. Breakfast Cereals
Kids choose their favourite type of breakfast cereal from among limited choices. They each add a piece of that cereal to the grid to compare the results.
14. Circle Graphs/Pie Charts
Survey questions such as favourite colours can be presented to kids with choices of “pie slices” in equal sizes cut from coloured paper.
They arrange them on a large circle, such as a paper plate, grouped together by colour to compare.
15. Graphing with Curious George
Show kids the video in which Curious George begins sorting the books by colour while working in the library.
Challenge children to sort a group of books by a set characteristic, such as colour, size or animal/human characters on the cover.
They can then make a graph of their results.
When introducing preschoolers to graphing, always begin with the most concrete examples, like things they can hold. Then, lead into the more abstract examples, such as pictures of objects and coloured boxes that represent real-life things.
Also start out by comparing just two sets of data (like cars and trucks), then lead into activities with three or more options to compare.
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