Ask Kate: How Much Should I Stress the Math Facts for My Older Student?

Have an upper-elementary or middle-school-age child who’s still having trouble with the math facts? These 4 tips will help you balance math fact instruction with moving forward with your regular homeschool math curriculum.  

I am currently working through MasterBooks Math Lessons for a Living Education Level 4 with my 9 year old daughter. Math is her “weakest” subject and we have spent many hours frustrated that neither of us can figure out how to help her learn a lesson or move past the simple math facts. I have purchased all 4 of your “Math Facts That Stick workbooks” and we really enjoy those and they have definitely helped. However, I feel a tension between completing the math fact books and continuing her normal lessons. She is going into 5th grade in all other subjects (in the fall with our homeschool) but I can’t stop feeling bad that she isn’t moving faster! She still struggles with subtraction and division facts. She is still memorizing the multiplication facts but gets frustrated with all the skip counting.

-Katy

Dear Katy,

That tension you describe is real! It’s tough to figure out how fast to move forward when you know there are some basics that still need work. But if you’re asking the question, you’re definitely on the right track. 

Some kids just have more  trouble than others mastering the math facts. For a 9 year old, it’s still well worth your time to keep working on them, but not at the expense of moving forward with your regular curriculum. For upper-elementary-age kids like your daughter, here’s what I suggest: 

  1. Spend 5 minutes a day (max!) practicing a few math facts. Use games, focus on strategies rather than rote memorization, and keep the time relaxed and light. If you both hit a point where you’re completely sick of them, feel free to take a break for a week or two before resuming. 
  2. Continue your regular math program. Encourage your daughter to recall the math facts and use them as much as possible in her assignments. BUT (and this is important!) allow her to use a multiplication table when she’s tackling new concepts that require a lot of multiplication. (For example, finding common denominators, multi-digit multiplication problems, or long division.) It’s just too hard for kids to learn these complex processes when they constantly have to stop and figure out every multiplication fact. Using the chart will help your daughter learn these new skills without feeling overwhelmed. 
  3. Skip-counting can be a real hindrance to getting faster at multiplication. Make sure to take a look at p. 19 of Multiplication Facts That Stick for suggestions on how to help her move beyond skip-counting. 
  4. Enjoy and celebrate all the other concepts and skills that she’s learning in math. The math facts are an important foundation, but they’re not the whole ballgame. If she’s starting to apply multiplication and division to word problems, understand place-value, and comprehend how fractions and decimals are used in real life, she’s making good fourth-grade progress.              

Happy Math!

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2 thoughts on “Ask Kate: How Much Should I Stress the Math Facts for My Older Student?”

  1. Hi, I appreciate all the information you have provided on your website! I am wondering you recommend for a 3rd grader with dyslexia / ADHD who has memorized his math facts for addition and subtraction but lacks automaticity. For the basic facts on your assessment, he got less than half of them correct within 3 seconds. He gets the correct answer but, on average, it takes him about 10 seconds. Is the answer to just keep working on the strategies you mentioned above? He has slow processing (that go along with dyslexia / ADHD) so I’m just not sure what to do, only that I know the lack of automaticity seems to be making math very frustrating for him. Thank you so much for your time.

    Reply
    • Hi Kelli,

      I’d use a two-pronged approach: a little bit of math fact practice every day to increase automaticity, plus a math fact chart to use when he’s tackling more complicated calculations. I’d also want to know HOW he’s finding those answers. If he truly has them memorized and it’s just taking a while to get the answers out, then he’s on the right track. But if he’s actually counting in his head to find more answers, then he needs practice learning to visualize them and see the answers, as in Addition Facts and Subtraction Facts That Stick.

      Best wishes in your teaching, and happy math!
      Kate

      Reply

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