Many adults today have strong recollections of their childhood math education. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a friend, colleague, or neighbor about what their math experience was like as a child, you may begin to develop a picture of many adults who remember struggling through years of muddy math concepts or who still lack the confidence with numbers that they couldn’t seem to find as a child.
Whether you’re a homeschooling educator or a devoted parent sending your child to elementary school, it’s safe to say you want to equip your child with the confidence and tools he or she needs to excel in math education the way many adults today wish they had as children. What is one key component of your child’s math practice that will set them up for a lifetime of math mastery? Math facts!
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[ctt template=”4″ link=”1efLc” via=”yes” ]What is one key component of your child’s math practice that will set them up for a lifetime of math mastery? Math facts![/ctt]
Math Facts Fluency
Math facts are computations that involve the four basic math operations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. We say that a child has obtained math fact fluency when he or she is able to recall a math fact accurately and quickly, within a couple seconds, without having to rely on computation strategies like adding or subtracting on fingers.
Another similar term that educators will often use to describe math fact mastery is automaticity, or the ability to recall information without conscious effort or significant attention. In the early years of math education, an emphasis is placed on memorization of math facts, which serves to aid the development of fluency and automaticity in children. As you are probably already familiar with from your own math education experience and from your child’s elementary math curriculum, this type of learning often takes the form of memorization exercises, like timed math fact drills, flashcards, and worksheets. The end goal is the child’s math fact fluency and automaticity.
Continued Success with Math Facts
With all the technology developments of the modern age, should we really be placing such an emphasis on memorizing math facts when children can simply use a calculator? The short answer is—Yes! Here’s why: A solid grasp of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division math facts sets children up for continued success in their math education. Math facts serve as the building blocks to higher level math concepts.
When children demonstrate math fact fluency, they can apply their knowledge of basic facts to the comprehension of more difficult math concepts. Similarly, the automaticity of math facts allows children to free up important “thinking space” in their brains for solving more complicated math problems. This skill proves invaluable as children move on from basic math facts to other areas of math mastery, including adding and subtracting larger numbers, long multiplication and division, telling time, measurement, counting money, and much more. A child who is still struggling to obtain math fact fluency will find these more advanced math concepts difficult to master. Calculators may help a child achieve the final computation in a math problem, but they do not provide the building blocks of concept mastery that math fact fluency does.
Math Facts in Advanced Math
When a child takes math fact fluency into more advanced math arenas, he or she gains confidence in his or her ability to master these new math concepts. Children with math fact mastery may find greater confidence and less performance-anxiety when taking a math test because they can focus most of their time and “brain space” on the skills that rely on their understanding of math facts, which they can easily recall at will. This confidence will follow a child through his or her elementary math education all the way through the completion of secondary education and beyond. The mastery of math facts really is that essential.
The Math Facts Learning Model
Now that we’ve explored why math facts are so important to a child’s math education, let’s cover how you can help your child achieve math fact mastery at home. You do not have to be a homeschooling educator who spends multiple hours a day drilling your child on basic math facts to obtain success (this is a recipe for burn-out for you and your child!), but you can begin carving out reasonable and regular time intervals each day to practice math facts with your child. A little effort goes a long way!
Math Facts Activities
Focus on activities that emphasize repeated exposure to the basic facts you wish to practice. Here are a few fun ideas:
Addition – Use a deck of playing cards. Children take turns drawing pairs of cards, and adding the values shown. (Face cards and aces can be worth 10, and jokers can be wild.) For younger children, use colorful Uno™ cards instead of playing cards. For simplicity, simply remove all of the action and wild cards.
If you have a young technology fan in your home, there are many math games available online. (Here are some online addition games you can try.)
Subtraction – Write the numbers 18 through 9 on small pieces of paper and place them in a hat or bowl. Then make another set of numbers, from 9 to 0, and place them in a separate hat or bowl. Have children pick a number from each and find the difference between the numbers. Repeat until they’ve drawn all of the numbers.
Mutliplication – Regular, timed multiplication practice will help your child quickly build fluency with their basic facts. There are many multiplication worksheets and games available online. Challenge learners to write the answers to math facts quickly and accurately.
Division – Division flashcards can be found at almost all dollar stores and big box department stores. Encourage learners to answer each fact in less than 3 seconds. Teach them to sort their cards into two piles – one pile for “correct and quick” facts, and another pile for incorrect or “too slow” facts.
No matter how you choose to practice math facts, patience coupled with regular practice will begin to transform your child’s math experience. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that we can’t prevent our children from struggling through difficult concepts in their math education, but we can equip them with the tools that build their confidence in their own math abilities for the remainder of their education and into adulthood. Is this a tall order for math fact practice? You decide. Today’s practice session paves the way for tomorrow’s success.
This is a contributed post.
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