The most common mathematical signs that young children will begin seeing and using are the +, -, and = signs used to perform simple addition and subtraction.

The addition sign (+) shows that one number is to be added to the other.  If children have concrete examples of items in front of them and they are asked to count how many items there are all together, they are adding.  If you were to put 3 apples on a table top and then draw a large + sign and put 3 apples on the other side of it, the message is that the two sets of apples should be added together.  The representation of the equals (=) sign lets them know that the total number equals both sets all together.

The same is true for the minus (-) sign.  Children tend to understand the concept of take away more readily than subtraction, so I encourage you to use take away when you ask children to subtract.  You can add the word subtract so they can become familiar with it, but take away provides a concrete and visual description of the concept that supports the preoperational and the concrete operational child.

Try and add these three mathematical signs into your classroom.  When creating visual cues for children, use these signs to support the message you are communicating.   Find ways to incorporate the language of “addition,” “take away,” and “equals” into your conversations with the children.