A complete guide to teaching your child the addition facts, including the best practice resources, free printable games, and the missing link that makes memorizing the facts faster and easier.
Have you tried all of these methods to teach your child the addition facts…but found that the addition facts go straight into your child’s short-term memory and straight out again?
All of these methods are helpful to a point—but the problem is that families usually use them too soon.
When you go straight from teaching what addition means to having your child memorize the facts, your child is missing an important piece of the puzzle.
Without this missing piece, learning the 81 different addition facts means weeks of pure rote memorization. Even with a supportive parent (or a flashy app), it’s a tedious and daunting task. No wonder some kids end up hating math before they’ve even finished 1st grade!
But, teaching the addition facts doesn’t have to be like this. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know to teach your child the addition facts—without killing your kid’s love of math or wanting to poke your eyeballs out in the process.
What are the addition facts? Why are they so important?
The addition facts are all of the sums from 1+1 up to 9+9. It’s essential that children master these 81 sums, because they’re the foundation for the rest of elementary arithmetic. Here’s the full addition facts chart:
Without thorough mastery of the addition facts, kids struggle as they start to tackle subtraction, word problems, and problems with bigger numbers. They use so much of their working memory on simple calculations that they have little brain space left for understanding new concepts.
This leads to solving problems more slowly, making more mistakes, and an overall lack of confidence in math.
In what grade should children learn the addition facts?
Ideally, children should master the addition facts in first grade or at the beginning of second grade so they’re well-prepared to tackle second-grade math topics like word problems and multi-digit addition.
But, if your older child hasn’t mastered the addition facts, it’s not too late. No matter what age your child is, learning the addition facts will make her much more confident and successful in math.
What do children need to know before memorizing the addition facts?
Your child should be solid with the following skills before trying to master the addition facts:
- Recognize written numbers up to 20.
- Understand the concept of addition.
- Have a beginning understanding of place-value (for example, knowing that 15 is the same as 10 + 5).
You know your child best, but most children 6 and up are developmentally ready to master the facts. It’s fine to work on the basics of addition with a younger child, but don’t expect full mastery until your child is a little more mature.
How fast should kids know the addition facts?
Aim for no more than 3 seconds per fact, and less if possible. But, it depends a lot on your child. Children who process information very quickly are quite capable of knowing each fact in less than 1 second, but children who are slower processors may always need a few seconds. You’re the parent and know your child best, so adjust your expectations to your individual child.
No matter how old your child, try to keep practice time relaxed and positive. Timed tests and drills aren’t necessary unless your child thrives on time pressure and finds it satisfying to beat the clock.
How to Teach Your Child the Addition Facts
Step 1: Break it up.
Instead of overwhelming your child with all of the addition facts at once, first break the facts into smaller groups.
There are many ways to do this, but I’ve found that tackling the facts in this order usually works best:
- +1 and +2 facts (dark blue)
- Pairs that make 10 (dark coral)
- Remaining sums less than 10 (teal)
- +9 facts (purple)
- +8 facts (gray)
- Remaining facts (pink)
Breaking up the addition facts in this way makes mastering them feel much more do-able (for kids and parents). Plus, your child will experience a lot of success right away with the easier +1 and +2 facts. This builds confidence and gets her ready to work on the more difficult facts in the teens.
Step 2: Visualize and strategize.
Cue the trumpets! This step is the missing piece that allows kids to master the addition facts with understanding and not just rote memorization.
You’ve chosen one small group of facts to concentrate on. Now, it’s time to teach your child to visualize numbers and use an efficient strategy to find the answers.
You might be surprised to hear that visualizing quantities is an essential step. But think about it from a child’s perspective. When most kids think about numbers, they tend to see in their minds’ eye piles of disorganized counters.
So, a child trying to add 9 + 4 imagines a pile of 9 counters and a pile of 4 counters. He knows that he needs to find the total, but the only strategy he has for adding them together is to count each counter one-by-one or to count on his fingers.
Our brains aren’t capable of keeping track so many disorganized counters at once—try it and see!—so no wonder he’ll eventually need to memorize every addition fact individually.
But, when children visualize numbers as organized groups, they can get out of the counting and memorizing rut.
Imagine instead a child who has learned to visualize numbers as organized groups on ten-frames. Here are those same 9 and 4 counters organized on ten-frames.
(A ten-frame is just a simple grid of 10 squares, with a line separating the two groups of 5. The dark line provides a point of reference so that it’s easy to see the numbers greater than 5 as a combination of “5 and some more.”)
Now, to add 9 + 4, the child can use a simple, concrete strategy to find the answer.
He moves one counter from the group of 4 to the group of 9. Now, he can immediately see that 9 + 4 is equivalent to 10 + 3, so 9 + 4 must equal 13.
With a little practice, he’ll learn how to visualize the numbers and even manipulate them mentally. Because the numbers are organized on the ten-frame, he can bring them to mind and imagine moving the counters to find sums.
Now, he has a reliable, efficient method that will serve as a stepping stone to help him master the +9 addition facts. With just six strategies like this one, he can readily master all of the addition facts.
Learn more about how to teach all 6 strategies here: A Parent’s Guide to the Most Useful Addition Strategies
Or, watch this video in which I explain how to teach all 6 strategies.
Step 3: Practice those facts until they’re mastered.
Once your child has learned one specific addition strategy for one specific group of facts, she’ll still need some practice before she’s able to use the strategy fluently.
So, have your child focus on just that specific set of facts for several days. For example, if you’ve taught her the +9 strategy above, have her practice just the +9 facts for a few days.
Tailor your child’s addition fact practice to whatever works best for you and your child. I’ve put together a menu of options here to help you find a method that suits your child well: The Best Addition Facts Practice for Every Learning Style
Many children thrive on a mix of games and worksheets. Games make mastering the addition facts fun and interactive. Plus, they also give you a chance to monitor how well your child is using the strategy (and fix any mistakes before they become ingrained.) Worksheets are a great complement to games, because they give your child the written practice that she needs to be able to use the facts fluently in her written schoolwork.
Step 4: Mix those facts with other facts.
Once your child has mastered one set of facts, it’s time to mix them up with the facts she’s already mastered. Mixing them together gives her practice at choosing the right strategy and provides cumulative review so that the facts are cemented in her long-term memory.
For a fun way to provide cumulative practice, try some of these classic games (War, Yahtzee, and Bingo) with an addition facts twist: Free Printable Addition Games that Will Make Learning the Facts Fun
And if you’d like an open-and-go, all-in-one resource that guides you step-by-step, check out my book: Addition Facts That Stick. It provides detailed lesson plans, fun games, and simple worksheets for every step of the process, so that you can teach your child addition facts that truly stick.