Mathematics for Special Education: Skills for Primary Grades

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Mathematics for special education needs to focus on the foundational skills necessary first for functioning in the community, and secondly, to support students with disabilities reach success in the general education curriculum.

Understanding the way in which we quantify, measure, and divide up the material "stuff" of our world is fundamental to human success in the world. It used to be enough to master "Arithmetic," the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. With the rapid growth of scientific knowledge and technology, the demands of understanding the "mathematical" definition of the world grew tenfold.

The skills outlined in this article are based on the Core Common State Standards for Kindergarten and Grade One and foundational for both functional living math skills and for mastering the general education math curriculum. The Core Common Standards do not dictate at what level skills should be mastered by children with disabilities; they do stipulate that these skills should be accessed by at least this level by all children.

Counting and Cardinality

  • One to one correspondence: Students know that sets of numbers correspond to a cardinal number, i.e. the pictures of 3 birds correspond to the number three.
  • Counting to 20: Knowing the number names and order of numbers to 20 builds the foundation for learning place value in the Base Ten System.
  • Understanding whole numbers: This involves understanding greater than and less than.
  • Understanding and recognizing ordinal numbers: Within sets of things, to be able to identify the first, the third, etc.

Operations and Algebraic Thinking

  • Understanding and modeling addition and subtraction: Beginning with counting two sets of things, as well as removing a set of things from another set
  • Missing number: children can fill a blank in a mathematical statement in place of an addend or subtrahend as the beginning of understanding missing integers in algebraic equations.

Numbers and Operations in Base Ten

  • Understanding place value to 100. A child needs to understand counting to 100 by counting from 20 to 30., 30 to 40, as well as recognizing sets of ten. Activities celebrated with 100 Days may be repeated after kindergarten for students who don't understand place value.

Geometry: Compare and Describe Plane Figures

  • The first skill for geometry is recognizing and sorting shapes
  • The second skill in this set is naming shapes.
  • The third skill is defining the plane shapes, both regular and irregular.

Measurement and Data

  • Recognizing and categorizing items: This is the first skill in collecting data and can be done with counters designed for sorting by color or by animal.
  • Counting money: Recognition of coins is the first step, then recognizing coin values. Skip counting by 5's and 10's is also foundational for learning to count coins.
  • Telling time to the hour and half-hour using analog clocks. Understanding time can be a difficult concept for students with disabilities, especially students with significant cognitive impairments or poor understanding of symbols, like students with autism whose function is low.
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Webster, Jerry. "Mathematics for Special Education: Skills for Primary Grades." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Webster, Jerry. (2020, August 28). Mathematics for Special Education: Skills for Primary Grades. Retrieved from Webster, Jerry. "Mathematics for Special Education: Skills for Primary Grades." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).