Is it a parent’s job to help kids learn their times tables? Well, if you care about their math development, the answer is a resounding yes!
In Singapore, children are often expected to have their times tables memorised by Primary 3 or 4. Not doing so would be detrimental during tests and exams — students might need extra time to complete straightforward questions, and they would likely find problem sums challenging. Not performing well in math tests and exams is demoralising, and some children may be convinced early on that they are “not good” at math.
And it’s not just in Singapore where students might experience learning setbacks because of not being familiar with the times tables.
“I worked with an angry, frustrated high-school student once who couldn’t pass algebra because she only knew 44% of her multiplication facts,” says US educator Randy Palisoc, who has authored a series of math workbooks. “I told her: ‘That’s like trying to read and only knowing 44% of the alphabet. It’s holding you back.’”
Palisoc encouraged this student to memorise her times tables, which turned things around for her.
“So for this teenager who was at risk of dropping out, becoming fluent and confident in multiplication was a game changer,” he says. “Because for the first time she could focus on problem solving instead of counting on her fingers.”
But isn’t it more important to understand the concept of multiplication than to memorise it? Yes of course! The ability to understand something will always be infinitely more important than the ability to recall it. However, once concepts have been grasped, memorising can help to free up cognitive space that can be used for higher-order thinking.
Wondering how to accomplish both learning goals? Read on to find out!
How To: Master the Concept of Multiplication
What’s the best way to start learning the times tables?
If you are starting on this with a preschooler, do make sure that they have already internalised how to count in ones. They will also need to have a good sense of breaking down numbers into parts — i.e. 3 is 2+1, 5 is 2+3 or 4+1 and so on. This ability to partition numbers will serve them well when learning multiplication.
To expose younger kids to multiplication, you can use what’s around you to introduce the concept of groups. For instance, with the human body, kids can look at what comes in pairs, such as eyes and ears. And you can extend this by asking questions such as, how many ears do two people have? Or, how many pairs of ears do three people have?
Math blocks and sticky notes can be valuable in helping kids to have a concrete reference as they group and count objects — it lets them see how two groups of three is different from three groups of two, even if the total is the same. (Get more ideas on using math blocks here.)
Be wary of multiplication songs and rhymes, which may lull you into thinking that your kids have mastered their times tables, when all they’ve done is to memorise a rhyme. Even a child who is confidently able to reel off “2-4-6-8-10” may not fully understand what this means.
It also helps to refer to the national math syllabus, so that you can align your learning activities with what is being taught in Primary 1:
Numbers up to 100
- counting to tell the number of objects in a given set
- number notation, representations, and place values (10s, ones)
- reading and writing numbers in numerals and in words
- comparing the number of objects in two or more sets
- comparing and ordering numbers
- patterns in number sequences
- ordinal numbers (first, second, up to 10th) and symbols (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.)
Addition and Subtraction
- concepts of addition and subtraction
- use of “+,” “–,” and “=”
- relationship between addition and subtraction
- adding more than two one-digit numbers
- adding and subtracting within 100
- adding and subtracting using algorithms
- mental calculation involving addition and subtraction
- within 20
- of a two-digit number and ones without renaming
- of a two-digit number and tens
Multiplication and Division
- concepts of multiplication and division
- use of “x”
- multiplying within 40
- dividing within 20
Typically, kids will pick up the “easy” times tables such as 2, 5, 10, and 11, before moving on to the others. The five and 10 times tables are helpful as they serve as checkpoints when learning the rest of the times tables. For example, if a child knows that 4×5 is 20, then 4×4 will be 20-4.
Many children master the nine times tables by using a finger trick. To learn the 12 times tables, kids can use the 10 times tables and the two times tables, and add the values together. Some children also enjoy spotting patterns and coming up with their own times tables “hacks.”
If you need resources, there are plenty of online guides created by educators and homeschoolers, filled with teaching suggestions. Here are two that you can refer to:
How To: Memorise the Times Tables
If your child already understands the concept of multiplication, your next step should be to help him or her achieve instant recall.
A simple way to do this is by reciting the times tables to a steady rhythm — you can help to set a beat or keep time, just for fun — as often as is feasible. But how your child recites the times tables also makes a difference. If you think back to how you memorised the times tables as a child, it was probably fuss-free, without the aid of songs and rhymes. Chances are, you were made to recite the following: 2-1-2, 2-2-4, 2-3-6, and so on. Some teachers and parents still recommend reciting the times tables this way, as opposed to saying “two times one is two,” because it helps with internalising the times tables more quickly. This approach is also thought to be more effective for times tables recall than skip counting (e.g. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10).
As for a recommended order, you can’t go wrong with helping your child to memorise the 2, 5, and 10 times tables first. These are not just the easiest times tables to learn, but also the easiest to recall. Some parents like to move on to 11 next, while others will start tackling the 3 and 4 times tables, and progress upwards from there.
You can also use a multiplication game app to test for recall and speed in a fun way, but be careful not to assume that game apps can replace the hard work of committing the times tables to memory. Keep the faith that your kids will be able to master the times tables eventually, and do remember to give plenty of praise and encouragement!