Help Your Child FINALLY Master Multiplication
Your child is working on their math homework and they ask you “what’s 3 x 7?”. You stop to look at them and realize that they aren’t trying to test you...they don’t know the fact. You tell them to figure it out on their own and they take a looong time counting on their fingers or adding up 7’s or 3’s on the side of the paper. A math problem that should have taken a few minutes takes ten. You thought they had their multiplication facts memorized!! You’ve been working on flashcards for what seems like ages!! But, they just don’t seem to stick.
If the scene above is happening in your house, and it’s causing tension, tears, and slow homework sessions, please know that you’re not alone. Not by a long shot! Many math students struggle to memorize their multiplication facts. The good news is- there are things you can do to help your child become quicker and more comfortable with multiplication. In the month of March, I want to challenge you to do something that might seem radical at first - ditch memorizing multiplication facts. Instead, focus on the strategies outlined below. If traditional flashcards and drills aren’t working for your child...what’s there to lose? Here’s how to get started - I promise it’s not hard (and it can actually be more fun than flashcards).
Why multiplication is hard for your child to memorize
Your child may have a hard time memorizing their facts, or they may seem to have them memorized one moment and forget them the next. This is completely normal, and your child is definitely not alone! Straight memorization of so many facts can be difficult for kids to keep in their head- especially if they don’t have a solid understanding to tie it to. If they have their facts memorized and don’t practice for a while, it’s reasonable that they will forget. Do you remember cramming for tests in school and then forgetting the information the next day? Additionally, high-pressure situations such as timed tests and high expectations from parents and teachers can keep your child from reaching their full potential when trying to master their facts by causing math anxiety.
Why master instead of memorize?
We encourage most students to master their multiplication facts instead of memorizing them. Odds are, if a student is having trouble memorizing facts, they may never reach a moment where they have them on concrete in their head where they will stay for the rest of their life. Instead, we want students to be able to recall their multiplication facts within 1-10 seconds, no matter how they bring that information into their mind. Students are often able to use strategies that work for them, along with a good understanding of multiplication, to do this efficiently. Once they become really good at this, no one will know they don’t have every fact memorized.
If you grew up in a traditional school environment where you were expected to memorize most things, this idea of using strategies instead of memorization may seem strange or might even rub you the wrong way. You may be afraid that this method will take more time and effort than just using flashcards to drill your child every night. Read on to see how strategies and low-pressure practice can save your child lots of time and stress. The goal here is to help your child be able to recall their facts to do their math work quickly and comfortably, not to reach the achievement of “having” all their multiplication facts.
Step 1: Nail down the concept
The first step to your child being able to recall multiplication facts quickly is ensuring that they actually understand multiplication and how it works. Not sure if your child knows? Ask them what the word multiplication means or to draw a multiplication problem so that you can gauge their understanding. You need to make sure your child understands that multiplication is repeated addition or the adding of same-size groups. Next, practice making and drawing the following two representations of multiplication. Make it fun by allowing your child to pick some multiplication facts to represent or by using a whiteboard to draw on.
Students can start their understanding of multiplication by making groupings of objects. Make multiplication facts with your child by creating groups of small objects that they enjoy such as legos, erasers or candies. After creating the problem, have your child tell you what they’ve made. An example sentence can be “I made ____ groups of ____ to represent the fact ___x___”. So if your child used their legos to make 3 x 4 they would say “I made four groups of three to represent three times four”. You can move on to drawing the groupings to make this practice more efficient and less messy (example below).
Areas and Arrays
Once your child can show multiplication using groupings, they can move on to the more organized representations. Arrays help students visualize larger multiplication problems without having to use or draw so many individual objects. You can practice making arrays with square math tiles or backsplash tiles from the hardware store. Once your child builds an array, practice drawing it (example below).
Step 2: Use favorite facts to help remember (not memorize)
Your child likely has multiplication facts that they know by heart and can proudly recite. These will be the facts they use to answer problems they don’t know. Practice creating the facts that they haven’t mastered and picking out familiar facts that can help them come up with the answer. You can do this using the arrays that you build, by allowing your child to move the tiles to create two or more facts that they know and can add together quickly. For example, if your child doesn’t know 8 x 8 they might split the fact into 5 x 8 and 3 x 8 and then add the answers together. Example below:
Step 3: The new and improved flashcard
Traditional multiplication flashcards suck. There...I said it. Seeing the fact and then flipping to the answer may not help your child remember long term. Instead, try creating a new and improved flashcard. You can use a deck of notecards or you can write on your existing deck of multiplication flashcards with a permanent marker. Have your child write the strategy they use to remember that fact on the back of the card along with the answer. So, for that fact of 8 x 8, your child might write “ 5 x 8 is… and 3 x 8 is… so 8 x 8 is…”. This gives the person drilling them hints to give to help them remember their strategy and come up with the answer. Modifying flashcards in this way helps your child practice their strategies and get faster with their recall as they practice.
Step 4: Play games and have fun!
Practicing multiplication facts doesn’t have to be anything close to boring! There are lots of games you can play when reviewing multiplication with your child. Here are a few of our favorites:
Play “war” with multiplication cards. Hold the cards so that you can flip them up with only the multiplication fact showing. Each player pulls the top card from their deck and places it in the middle. The player with the highest answer gets to keep the cards. Alternatively, each player can pull two regular playing cards and multiply them together to find the winner.
Swat the fact - Layout multiplication cards with the answer side up. Yell out facts and have your child swat the answer with a fly swatter. You can reverse this and yell the answer and swat the fact to mix it up.
Roll dice, draw cards, or throw sticks. Basically, any element of chance adds to the excitement of multiplication practice. Use your favorite game pieces or elements to make up your own way of generating multiplication facts.
Memory - Create a memory game where your child must match answers to multiplication facts.
Let your child create their own game to practice multiplication. This will get their creative juices flowing and make them even more invested in their practice.
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