Master Math Facts


The basic math facts are the sums and products of the single-digit numbers 1-9, such as 2+2, 4+5, 3x3, and 5x7, as well as their opposite subtraction and division facts. After mastering the concept of addition, students usually start learning their addition facts and subtraction facts in the first grade. Review continues throughout the primary grades, and they then learn their multiplication and division facts in the third grade. Some teachers will require additional practice in the fourth or fifth grades to build speed or help students to remember multiplication and addition facts that they may have forgotten.

Children who know their facts well compute multi-step equations faster and more accurately. They also have better number sense, which helps them to gauge the reasonableness of their answers and make estimations. As well, knowing math facts facilitates mental math skills that support everything from computing tips to completing standardized testing under time constraints.

For a variety of reasons, some children need extra practice at home in order to memorize their basic facts. If your child falls in that category, here are some strategies:

Frequent practice

Children should practice at least three times per week. Practice sessions do not need to be marathons; just ten minutes can make a meaningful difference. Creating a system that keeps children accountable, such as a printed practice schedule, is one way of ensuring that frequent practice takes place.

Have a strategy for facts practice

It is easier to memorize new information and file it away for later mental retrieval if one can relate it to something already learned. For example, 4's addition facts are related to 2's addition facts, so it makes sense to learn them in sequence. A lot of children find it relatively easy to recall their "doubles" addition facts, such as 2+2, 3+3, 4+4, etc. They can then build on this knowledge by memorizing their "doubles +1" facts, such as 2+3, 3+4, and 4+5. Sequencing learning this way is much easier than trying to learn all facts in numerical order.

Offer choice

As with many things, children will have a better attitude toward learning their math facts if they can have some choice and control over how they learn. I like to offer a menu of many ways to practice. While flashcards are one great tool for memorizing information, there are many other means of learning facts. You might try StudyBlue or Quizlet online. There are a variety of games that you can play to help a child learn math facts, such as War. I've used self-grading one-minute quizzes on Google forms and paper-based quizzes. Varying the means of studying also challenges the mind, which is helpful for creating lasting learning.

Teach self monitoring

Children tend to practice what they already know well. Whether working through spelling lists or songs to play on the piano, it's easiest to do what one has mastered and to overlook how much practice one needs with the trickier bits. I like to teach my students to sort flashcards into piles while they are practicing. One pile is for facts they knew accurately and quickly in the first pass. We put those cards away immediately. We then focus all of our time and attention on reviewing the cards in the other pile —these are the facts that took extra time to recall or that the student did not know. Quizlet's learning and review tools time how long it takes students to respond to questions and will automatically repeat the more challenging information. This type of feedback is important and helps studying to become more efficient.

Teach ways of learning

When your child does not know a math fact, he or she will need a way to memorize that information. I use a few of strategies to help my students learn information they do not know. We repeat the math fact aloud several times. We will write it in the air with our fingers, and sometimes we will write it on paper.

Oversight is key

I have not yet met an elementary school-aged child who can set a memorization goal for himself and meet it without adult supervision. The self-monitoring involved is a fairly abstract skill that is beyond the developmental level of most children, as is the delayed gratification. Regular reminders to practice are a good start, but most young students will need more structure to complete their basic facts study. If you want help seeing a program of math facts learning through, send me an email or give me a call.

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