Graphing in early childhood classrooms

The two comments on an earlier post on Collecting Data were about graphing in early childhood classrooms. My curiosity got the better of me so I investigated what some of the standards have to say about when it is appropriate to teach the concept of graphing.
I chose to list Virginia’s standards because that’s where I live, and Oklahoma because it has ranked first since 2003–2004 for serving the highest percentage of 4-year-olds in state-funded preschool.
It appears that most standards agree that preK is the time to introduce graphing—see the chart below.

This is not an exhaustive search—please chime in with any additions, corrections, or personal experiences!
(Note that the standards are not quoted in full.)

Source Curriculum area Specific standard or skill
A Framework for Science Education Preliminary Public Draft National Research Council of the National AcademiesPublic Comment Draft – July 12-August 2, 2010 Ch. 5: Dimension 3: Scientific and Engineering Practices 5-17, Pages 93-94 Table 10: Collecting, Analyzing, and Interpreting Evidence: What patterns are there in the data? (Identifying Relationships) [Table 10 presents how this practice might develop with time.]Emerging–Tabulates and represents evidence in a graphical form and looks for patterns. Can interpret simple data presented graphically (pie charts, simple graphs)patterns.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science Project 2061, Benchmarks for Science Literacy 9. The Mathematical World Numbers, Kindergarten through Grade 2. By the end of the 2nd grade, students should know that simple graphs can help to tell about observations. 9A/P4
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Data Analysis and Probability Standard for Grades Pre-K-2, Expectations Instructional programs from prekindergarten through grade 12 should enable all students to— Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them In prekindergarten through grade 2 all students should— pose questions and gather data about themselves and their surroundings; sort and classify objects according to their attributes and organize data about the objects; represent data using concrete objects, pictures, and graphs.
NAEYC Accreditation Criteria for Curriculum, Standard 2. “These aspects of quality should be seen in any programs or classrooms serving birth through kindergarten, though they may look somewhat different in practice depending on the children’s age.” 2.G. Curriculum Content Area for Cognitive Development: Science 2.G.05 PreK-KChildren are provided varied opportunities and materials to collect data and to represent and document their findings (e.g., through drawing or graphing).
Highscope Preschool Key Developmental Indicators (KDIs)(Note: no specific reference to graphing.) Science and Technology Classification
♦  Exploring and describing similarities, differences, and the attributes of things
♦  Sorting and matching
♦  Describing characteristics something does not possess or what class it does not belong to.
Mathematics Seriation
♦  Comparing attributes (longer/shorter, bigger/smaller)
♦  Comparing the numbers of things in two sets to determine “more,” “fewer,” “same number”
♦  Counting objects
The Head Start Child Development And Early Learning Framework, December 2010 Scientific skills & Method The skills to observe and collect information and use it to ask questions, predict, explain, and draw conclusions.• Observes and discusses common properties, differences, and comparisons among objects.• Collects, describes, and records information through discussions, drawings, maps, and charts.
Mathematics Knowledge & skills Number relationships & operationsThe use of numbers to describe relationships and solve problems.• Uses a range of strategies, such as counting, subitizing, or matching, to compare quantity in two sets of objects and describes the comparison with terms, such as more, less, greater than, fewer, or equal to.Patterns• Sorts, classifies, and serializes (puts in a pattern) objects using attributes, such as color, shape, or size.Measurement & comparisonThe understanding of attributes and relative properties of objects as related to size, capacity, and area. 
• Compares objects using attributes of length, weight and size (bigger, longer, taller, heavier).
• Orders objects by size or length.
Oklahoma Early Learning Guidelines for Children Ages Three Through Five (November 2006) Concept Area: Math, Standard 5: Data Analysis—The child will collect and analyze data in a group setting. Indicators of Child’s Progress– B. Develops growing abilities to collect, describe, and record information through a variety of means, including discussion, drawings, maps, charts, and graphs.
Virginia Standards of Learning, (2010) Scientific Investigation, Reasoning, and Logic. COMMUNICATING: To gather, record, and transmit qualitative or quantitative information, including defining operationally; using expert, print, and electronic resources; gathering, charting, recording, and graphing data; and presenting information in standard written narrative, oral, audiovisual, and electronic formats Grade K: The student will demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science.i)picture graphs are constructed;Grade 1: 1.1                 The student will demonstrate an understanding of scientific reasoning, logic, and the nature of science by planning and conducting investigations in which 
i)observations and data are recorded, analyzed, and communicated orally and with simple graphs, pictures, written statements, and numbers; and,
Grade 2: 2.1
h)data are collected and recorded, and bar graphs are constructed using numbered axes;
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13 Responses to Graphing in early childhood classrooms

  1. Peggy B. says:

    My combined first and second grade children had an enjoyable time making bar graphs using a class list. Graphing allowed children to organize and classify data to be shared with the class.
    After an initial explanation about the graphs, we brainstormed all the data that could be used about our class, such as: birthdays, brothers and sisters, favorite school lunches, favorite TV programs, etc. Then, when children had a good idea, each would be given a class list and a graph. The graphs had ½”squares with spaces at the bottom for the data and numbers on the left hand side. They would write, or have help writing, the data before canvassing their classmates and coloring in the appropriate squares.
    One time Ruth, a first grader, wrote down different types of underwear. The other first graders answered without batting an eye, but the second graders looked mortified and exchanged the strangest looks with each other, but they each chose what type they wore and didn’t say anything unpleasant to Ruth.
    After sharing their graphs with the class, they were displayed for all to see the variations of class data.
    See more about the math program in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where a bar graph can be downloaded for a class. Also, see 7 reviews on

  2. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    Thanks for sharing your classroom story : ) and the resources from your book on your website:

  3. Rhonda Bittner says:

    I think graphing with preschoolers is a great way to talk about more or less, counting, answer questions posted, and you can use them to make predictions like how many days will it rain in the month of May.

  4. Shelly says:

    Graphing has always been a fun and interactive way for children to see the comparison of quantities; not to mention it always children to vote as well. Children can graph a variety of things from their sock color to how many days it rained this month. It reinforces counting skills and helps children to use their critical thinking skills to figure out which item has less and which items have more.

  5. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    And after the children compare and count they can discuss and think about ‘why’. Does it rain this much every month, how does shoe type vary with the weather, and what makes things waterproof?

  6. Lisa Kerchner says:

    Graphing not only is a way for children to learn about more or less, but it is also a great tool for teaching patterns, AB, ABC, etc. When I sub, I have found that teachers usually use graphs for weather, food that children like or dislike. I think by putting this on paper children at this age level can visualize this concept better than just talking about it.

  7. Kati Stephan says:

    I teach a graphing unit each year in my first grade classroom. The students really see the visual representation of data. We also learn to collect data through surveys and then to represent that data in a graph. My sister teacher pre-k and recently did an activity where her students rolled a die to count out cubes. This was practice for one-to-one counting as well as associating a number with a group. However, once they had counted them, they lined up their towers of cubes to make a graph and compared which had the most and which had the least. I believe this is a great introduction to the basic concepts of graphing, and I think that it was a real life event that the pre-k students could learn from!

  8. alicia says:

    I think introducing graphs in a preschool class is great. Students can take information they know and learn to sort and classify it depending on characteristics. Using basic charts and graphs children can learn to compare, count, and discuss diffrences and similarities in objects.

  9. Jacqui says:

    I think that graphing is something positive that can be taught very early. In preschool, graphs could be a positive visual experience for the students. The graphs can be used in any subject or concept being taught. Teaching graphs is also fun and hands on, which keeps students on task at any grade level.
    I teach 5th grade, and we are still learning about graphs, the importance of them, and why they are used in real life. My students love creating graphs and coming up with new ideas. We also use the computers at school to create 3D graphs. This is a great way to get them involved with technology. I then come to think about the younger generations and computers. I am sure there are students that are very young that would be able to create a simple graph on the computer. The possibilities are endless! 🙂
    Graphing is a great teaching tool, and I am glad you posted this .

  10. shipshashles says:

    Last year I had a teachable moment when I was doing my daily attendance. I know that at the end of the month our school recognizes the classrooms that have the highest percentage of attendance because poor attendance is an issue in our school. I thought, why not create a graph that allows my students to see how many kids are in our class that day and then at the end of the month we can analyze the graph and try to predict whether or not we will be receiving the attendance prize for that month. I know that my 2nd graders do not have much control over whether or not they come to school that day, but I had many comments from my kids saying that they wanted to have everyone at school and I think that may have encouraged them to come to school instead of staying home.
    I love the fact that there are so many things to graph and so many ways to graph it! Using information that is relevant to my students really helps them internalize the information. Now I just need to find gigantic graph paper so I don’t have to keep drawing grids!

  11. Chuck Bell says:

    Graphing is a skill that children of all ages can benefit from. At the early ages, it is a skill that helps visual learners as well as creates an interactive activity for those who learn better with manipulatives. Children in the upper grades can graph with computers to develop additional skills.
    When I introduce graphing I start by giving every student a sticky note, with which they must write their name on. I write a question on the board with 4 or 5 answers. (Ex. How do you get to school? Car, bus, bike, or walking) The students put their sticky note above the category they fit in. By doing this the students create an interactive graph. This process can be repeated with different questions. For 3rd to 6th grade students you can work on changing the graph into a table. Older students can use the data to create a graph with the computer.
    Feel free to use this idea or expand upon it!

  12. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    It’s great to hear this community’s ideas for graphing and for discussion about the patterns in data that students see once they graph it.
    Shipshashles, the largest graphing grid that I’m aware of is the 1″ Grid Square Ruled Easel Pad I see at the office/teacher supply stores. The lines might be too faint to see from the back of a group of students. Sticky notes now come in a size small enough to fit in a 1″ square. I wonder if using permanent marker on a dry erase board* to make the grid and dry erase markers or sticky notes for the data could make your life easier?
    *Here’s a tip from the NSTA email lists for an inexpensive substitute for dry erase and white boards: Buy a large sheet of shower board at your local home improvement store. They will cut it for free for you into smaller sizes. Have your students bring in a sock from home (they all have a sock without a match floating around) and a dry erase marker. They can put the dry erase marker in the sock and store it in a drawer in your classroom…the sock becomes the eraser.

  13. jumbo says:

    thanks for the information such a concepts of technology based growing skills and knowledge in the childwood classrooms

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