So, why would I do that? Why take up valuable classroom time, not to mention valuable preparation time, for something so simple? Could it possibly be that worthwhile? What do children really learn from graphing?
Children learn language by hearing it and then by speaking it. They can't learn words they don't hear (or read), and vocabulary is a strong indicator of success in school and in life. Hearing and using language is very important, and graphing offers opportunities to use a lot of math language! We all want our children to be successful, so using a rich and varied vocabulary is very important.
When we graph with students, including looking back at the graph and learning how to use the data it contains, we're talking about numbers and their relationships with each other. Our students count to answer questions like "How many ___", and counting, especially for the youngest kiddos, reinforces the number sequence and 1-1 correspondence (saying one number for each object or mark on the graph.) We use numerals, the written form of numbers. As an early childhood teacher, I've noticed that children are much more likely to have worked on letters at home, than to have worked with numbers. They need to be able to read the symbols for both, and graphing provides a real life, hands on, engaging way to work with numbers. (Especially if you're graphing about something they care about, like ice cream flavors or favorite characters!)
Math, plain and simple. "How many more ___ than ___?" is actually a subtraction question. "How many ___ and ___?" is an addition problem. Deciding which choice on the graph had the most or fewest (the kiddos often say which one "won" or "lost") involves comparing 2 numbers. The physical representation of those numbers on the graph makes it a concrete way for young children to learn about adding and subtracting, by counting on and counting down. While you really shouldn't expect a 3 year old to be able to answer 9 - 5 = ?, if you show them a graph with those numbers represented, they can definitely figure it out! We're preparing their brains for higher learning skills.
There are a lot of great reasons to graph with young children, not the least of which is to spend quality time talking with them, and letting them express their ideas and favorites. It's pretty awesome that doing something so fun turns out to be really educational and developmentally appropriate too! If you would like a copy of these graphing posters (without my picture on them), they are FREE on my TeachersPayTeachers store. I would be honored it you would download them, print them, and then go have some fun learning about graphs with the youngsters in your life! If you find them useful, taking a moment to provide feedback on TpT is a great way to tell me thank you.