Friday, January 8, 2010

Facts on Math Facts

There are several things I've learned over the years about teaching math in the homeschool. Undeniably, the first and most important element for imparting a solid math education is—drum roll please—the memorization of math facts! Skip the skip counting and focus on helping your children memorize their facts. Truly, it is the most important part of elementary math. It's more important than that drill sheet they have in front of them each day, and yes, it's even more important than that well-researched, expensive curriculum you bought at the book fair. If I could implore you to do ONE THING in the elementary years that would benefit your children the most it would be to focus on the facts. Please, please, please make sure your children learn them!

You see, middle school math is next to impossible for the student that must first stop and think about the answer to six times eight. If the child is not certain of the answer to seven plus six, what we call "careless" mistakes will abound. Further, it will take him an hour to do what could be completed in 15 minutes—if he only knew his facts!


As students grow older, math problems get trickier, lengthier, and often involve several steps to solve. If a student has to ponder the answer to every addition, subtraction, and multiplication fact they encounter, math will become the bane of your existence. Fractions are frightening for a kid that can't find a common denominator because he doesn't know his math facts.

Skip counting is fine, and it may work for a while, but in the end, the student simply must know his facts. If your child is still skip counting while taking the SAT, he will probably get left behind. In essence, by sixth grade, your children should have all their multiplication math facts, through at least the tens, down pat. They should also know their addition and subtraction facts through twenty. If they do, they are then free to focus on the algorithms (the procedures for doing the equations) without the burden of lacking the basics.

I learned a little late that math facts should be the most important part of a child's early math education. With my first child, I spent more time teaching the algorithms and only sporadically worked on memorizing the facts. By sixth grade, I knew we were in big trouble. Thankfully, teaching math facts is not rocket science. Thus, we were able to remediate this issue by focusing each day on the monotonous and painfully boring task of flash cards. I'll explain the flashcard methods that were most effective for my students in my next post.

I also want to point out that I purchased and watched other homeschool moms purchase expensive games, gadgets, and software in the hopes of making math facts memorization a breeze. This is unnecessary, and by trying to make it fun, we complicate the process and risk not even doing it. In the end, it really boils down to the nitty-gritty work of sitting with your child—one on one, each and every day—to ensure that he solidly memorizes those facts.