As a teacher I often get asked questions from my layperson friends about their children’s school lives, and honestly, I’m happy to help out when I can. And perhaps it’s not that surprising, but the two most common themes I get consulted about are:

- Reading
- Math

Times change and schools change, but the three Rs are still the going concern for parents, it seems (or at least two of them are, anyway. I do find it interesting that I almost

**never**get asked about writing, despite the fact that the argument can be made that learning how to communicate clearly and effectively using the written word is, quite possibly, the single most important skill your child will need upon graduation from school. But I digress…fodder for another post, perhaps).Now that my kids are older, and their friends are older (and therefore

*my*friends are also older), the questions about reading acquisition and decoding and comprehension and Dolch lists and levelled readers have all begun to wane. Somehow (as I knew they would, and as I told many of their worried parents they would) they have all managed to learn how to read. Hallelujah!But there’s something that my kids – at 12 and 9 – still don’t know how to do. In fact, lots of kids still don’t know how to do it. And that thing? That skill that was deemed to be so necessary back in the mid-seventies when I was having it beaten (metaphorically and with a spanking or two) into me? In my opinion, it’s something that they probably should still know how to do.

That skill is mental multiplication (and division, by extension). It’s those nasty old times tables that we were supposed to memorize and that Mrs. Harper spanked me for not knowing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for reform mathematics (which is what we in da biz call the way we teach math these days). Having been one of those “math is hard” kids all through my elementary and high school years (despite being an excellent student and taking home top honours), I found that it was only once I began teaching this curriculum that mathematics finally made sense to me. I understood the underlying principles, I grasped the interconnecting patterns, and today while driving, I (correctly) multiplied 77×5 in my head. IN MY HEAD PEOPLE.

So no, I’m not going to bash reform math and I’m also not going to bash my teacher colleagues. We totally rock as a profession, and we’re preparing a new generation of kids who are mathematical thinkers instead of human calculators who only know one way to solve a problem, and that, my friends, is all to the good.

But we may have a little bit thrown a wee baby out with some of the bathwater. Now: I would never recommend going back to the bad old days of teaching only one algorithm each for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. And I don’t relish spending days drilling my students on their times tables and so help me God I don’t want to pull out the mad minutes ever again. But by golly it sure makes everyone’s life easier if these kids know their basic facts up to 9×9.

I’m sure lots of moms and dads (and probably some math teachers, too) are sitting on the other side of this screen nodding their heads. I vividly remember fielding a concern from my oldest daughter’s teacher: “she just doesn’t understand the order of operations! She got every one of these problems wrong!” Panicked, I looked at her test. Turns out on closer inspection, she did all the operations in the right order, she just flubbed EVERY. SINGLE. multiplication step. Single digits, and she got them all wrong. Proud, proud mama. (not)

So although yes: we have calculators and iPhones and apps and for sure by the time our kids go to university they’ll have some kind of Google implant that solves quadratic equations and displays the answer on the inside of your eyelids, there are going to be times between now and then when it would be convenient to

*just know*that 7×6=42.So it begs the question…what to do? Well, like with any skill, mastery takes practice and time. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit your child down at the kitchen table and shout at her to memorize her times tables. There are some strategies that will make the whole experience a little easier and a lot more fun. I’ve gathered a few ideas here for you. Try a few and when you find one that works, everything will click into place. And then homework time will be that much easier (yeah, you WISH!)

### iPad/iPod Apps

Let’s face it, everything’s more fun on an electronic device. I don’t know if the apps I chose are available on Android, but many are.

I like this one because it supports the vocabulary that children will encounter in school (repeated addition, arrays, etc.) and builds from basic to more advanced concepts and skills.

This one is fun and engaging and is a good tool for drilling (once the child understands multiplication and division and just needs to practice, practice, practice). It’s good because it also has addition and subtraction, so for those younger children still in grades 1-4, this is also a good choice.

This one goes about reinforcing multiplication/division skills and math vocabulary (factor, multiple, etc.) through different survival puzzles. Totally fun and addicting and worth the 99cent price tag.

### Websites, etc.

Hey, they want to be on the computer all the time anyway, why not make them earn that Minecraft time by putting in some math practice first?

These days it’s not uncommon to hear parents complain, “I can’t even figure out how to help my third-grader with his math homework!” For those moments (and any others, actually), I recommend Khan Academy. Founder Salman Khan started off tutoring a cousin, and when others began asking for help, he decided to publish some helpful videos to YouTube. Word spread and he was able to quit his job as a hedge-fund manager back in 2009 to work on Khan Academy full-time. Access to the site is free and you can learn anything from elementary math to art history to macroeconomics. It’s free and it’s top-quality. Actually, even if your child isn’t struggling, I would recommend Khan Academy!

I love IXL. It’s used in over 150 countries and they have a Canadian edition that caters to each provincial and territorial curriculum, so you can be sure your child is getting support in exactly what they’re learning in school. It has a tracking tool for parents (or teachers) so you can monitor your child’s progress. Practice activities are designed to stimulate both the left and right sides of the brain (which plain old drilling doesn’t do) and this helps promote retention and higher-level thinking. Children earn badges for mastered skills and are very engaged when working on it. The best part? If you get a problem wrong, IXL walks you through the correct solution and makes sure you understand before moving on to the next question. It’s almost as good as having a teacher sitting beside you as you do your work. I’ve used this in the classroom myself and I was pleased with the results. It’s $9.95 a month or $79 a year, but when you consider most qualified teachers charge between $40-$50 per hour f

or tutoring, $79 is a bargain.

or tutoring, $79 is a bargain.

This game is a lot of fun for kids and adults alike, although it is difficult to earn medals and the little animated professor can sometimes be a bit of a jerk. So if your child is sensitive or lacks confidence, you may want to give this one a miss (at least at first). There are also other math practice games you can download through the Wii’s internet connectivity feature that are worth a try.

### Oldschool (literally)

Despite all the great techie stuff there is out there today, sometimes there’s just no substitute for doing it the good old-fashioned way. I don’t personally recommend drilling, but there are lots of fun non-electronic ways to reinforce basic math skills, and I do encourage you to try these, as well. As with anything, coming at a problem from a variety of approaches will yield the best results, so when you’re tired of seeing your child staring at the computer screen or the iPad’s battery is dead, you should definitely try some of these.

Flash Cards

For a new twist on an old classic, cut some carstock out in the shape of isosceles triangles. Use one “number family” for each card, and reinforce all the facts related to that one family at once. So for example: 7×8=56 is related to 8×7=56 and 56÷8=7 and 56÷7=8. Have your child make these cards herself, and then have fun drilling by calling out “seven and eight!” or “fifty-six!” and see what facts your child can remember. Then look at the card together to see if she’s right. Here’s an example of what the cards look like:

War (and racing rectangles extension)

You remember the old card game? Well, this works pretty much the same. I usually take out all the face cards (aces are ones in this game) because realistically it’s only necessary to know your basic multiplication facts up to 9 (you can always group by tens and single digits later on, and kids are taught how to do this).

This is a two-player game. Deal out the entire deck between the two players. Each player turns over the top card simultaneously, and the first player to call out the correct product wins the hand and takes the cards. So for example, if I turn over a 9 and my partner turns over a 4, the first person to say 36! is the winner. Once all the cards are done, the winner is the person with the most pairs in their pile of winnings.

You can extend this game further with a piece of graph paper and two coloured pencils. Play the game as usual, but the winner of the hand then draws a rectangle on the graph paper (with their coloured pencil) and writes the product inside the rectangle. Following the example above, I’d make a rectangle that is 4 squares wide by 9 squares long (or vice-versa) and write 36 in the middle of it. If the other player wins, they do the same but with their colour of pencil crayon. Keep playing until the paper is full and there’s no space to draw any more rectangles (recycle the deck of cards if necessary). The winner is the person with the most rectangles in their colour. Writing helps to reinforce, and so does using colour. This will also help your child when they cover the concept of area in their geometry unit.

Songs

Although I’m linking to YouTube, I don’t include this strategy in the online category because really the fact is you just learn the songs by following along on YouTube and then you should be practicing them offline. They may seem a bit cheesy, but the fact is, singing is one of the best ways to learn (here – try putting the following words in alphabetical order: swan, elephant, purple, weather, broccoli – did you sing your ABCs as you did it? See, I told you!)

The bottom line is that there are many ways to help your child become fluent with basic multiplication facts – try a variety of approaches and see what works best for you and your child. Do you have a favourite tip or tool that you use? Share it in the comments below if you do.

*This post is not sponsored by any website or app. If I recommended something here, it’s because I just genuinely like it and think it’s worth recommending.*

Kath says

We aim to please 🙂

Kath says

Julie, I hear ya. Understanding grouping is an important first step, but I also coach my kids to find an “accurate and efficient” strategy to use long-term. Counting tallies, building an array and using manipulatives are first steps, but it shouldn’t (and I hope doesn’t!) stop there.

Kath says

I’ll check out reflex math, thanks Erin!

Tracey says

This is so useful, Kath – thank you!!

Julie says

i agree. i understand that one needs to understand how 8×7 becomes 56 but taking 3 minutes add up all of the groups of 7 is a little time consuming. thanks for the ideas!

Erin Little says

I’ll add one more. Reflex Math. It’s $25 for a year. It’s game based. Cumulative and progressive. Provides reports on which facts are known and not know. The students get “rewards” in that they can shop in a store for outfits and hair styles for their avatar. Most students up to grade 5 love it.

It is frustrating for some at first because they need to use it for at least 15-20 minutes at a time and many of them are used to switching games regularly. Even these students often love it once they get used to it.