Surviving Multiplication

Frazzled.png“How do I get my kids to memorize the times tables without going crazy?!” This question, or a variation of it, is probably the one that I see most often in homeschool discussions on social media.

Most homeschooling parents experience at least some stress around the issue and worry that they can’t progress with math learning until they’ve dealt with it. But I strongly encourage a different approach to jumping the hurdle that is….

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The “traditional” approach to math learning holds that children must memorize multiplication facts and be able to recall them quickly in order to move on to long division and more complicated math concepts. If you have one of those rare children who thrive on hours of flashcards and speed drills, then this approach will probably work for you. But most kids (and parents) find those activities pretty tedious. For many kids, it’s a surefire way to destroy any enthusiasm they have about math studies; and for some it can be stressful enough to seriously undermine their confidence, which has long-lasting effects on their learning. The ubiquitous development of computer learning games has helped some. Your kids may enjoy Times Tales or similar games enough to remember and repeat the facts. But even these fun games can become boring pretty quickly.

Many math educators and homeschoolers prefer to put more emphasis on understanding concepts and problem solving, rather than memorizing facts and fast calculation. This was the approach I used in my own family. My children never took timed fact tests, nor did they spend much time working at memorizing multiplication tables. We used different activities and tools to understand the concepts of multiplication and place values. We played with numbers to discover the patterns and relationships. Then I gave them printed fact charts for reference and we forged ahead with more complicated concepts. Both of my children got A’s (and an occasional B) in college level math classes, so this approach served them well.

But don’t take my word for it! There is a growing body of scientific evidence that this new understanding of math learning is more effective. YouCubed is a program sponsored by Stanford University with the goal of helping math teachers implement the findings of recent research. The website has many articles explaining the research, as well as resources for putting these ideas into practice with children. I encourage any homeschooling parent (especially if your child is struggling with math learning) to read about the philosophy behind this approach to math, which incorporates the ideas of “growth mindset.” It could revolutionize your family’s learning and save you much stress and worry!

If you’re looking for math curriculum (or just some learning activities), remember that young children need concrete examples of number concepts. Even older children can often benefit from the use of manipulatives in math learning. Use whatever you have (Legos, M&M’s, even nails or screws from you last home improvement project!) as counters to explore numeric relationships. You can also use graph paper and crayons or markers to show multiplication concepts to visual learners.

Be creative in approaching math learning! Your children will develop a healthier understanding, and be confident in their own abilities in math. (It might even work for you, too!)

Happy Homeschooling!

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