Learn a simple and efficient method for teaching your child the times tables. Plus, the #1 mistake parents make when teaching their kids the multiplication facts.
How NOT to teach the times tables
In this article, you’ll learn a step-by-step plan for teaching your kids the multiplication facts.
But first, let’s get straight on what NOT to do.
For many people, memorizing the multiplication facts equals rote practice. So, these wonderful, well-meaning parents figure that there’s only one way to help their kids master the multiplication facts: make a big stack of flash cards and start drilling.
These parents want the best for their kids, but they’re skipping a few steps…and they’re making the whole process a whole lot more painful and tedious than it needs to be. Practice and drill do help kids memorize the multiplication facts. But, they come at the end of the process, not the beginning.
Psst…want an all-in-one, open-and-go resource for teaching the multiplication facts? I’ve put all these steps together into one book for helping your kids master the multiplication facts.
What are the multiplication facts (or times tables)? Why are they so important?
The multiplication facts (also known as the times tables) are all of the multiplication problems from 1 × 1 = 1 up to 10 × 10 = 100.
Can you imagine trying to find common denominators or equivalent fractions without knowing 5 × 6? Or trying to do long division when you’re not quite sure what 7 × 7 is? And don’t even get me started on factoring polynomials…
Without full mastery of the multiplication facts, kids struggle as they start to tackle division, fractions, and problems with larger numbers. They use so much of their working memory on simple calculations that they have little brain space left for understanding new concepts.
In what grade should my kids learn the multiplication facts?
Third grade. That way, they’re well-prepared to tackle third- and fourth-grade math topics like multi-digit multiplication, equivalent fractions, and division. But no matter what age your child is, learning the multiplication facts will make her much more confident and successful in math. If your older child hasn’t mastered the multiplication facts, it’s not too late.
What do my children need to know before memorizing the multiplication facts?
Before memorizing the multiplication facts, your child should first learn the addition facts and subtraction facts. Each set of facts builds logically on the previous set, so it’s important that your child learn them in this order.
Before your child begins memorizing the multiplication facts, you should first make sure that she understands what multiplication means. (For example, that 3 × 8 means “3 groups of 8.”) It also helps if she knows how to add one-digit numbers to two-digit numbers mentally. (You’ll learn more about why in Step 3 below.)
How fast should my kids know the multiplication facts?
Aim for no more than 3 seconds per fact, and faster 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. Multiplication 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 multiplication facts
Teaching comes before practice
There’s 5 steps to mastering the multiplication facts:
- Step 1: Break up the facts into manageable chunks.
- Step 2: Make the facts concrete with a simple visual.
- Step 3: Teach your child to use easier facts as stepping stones to the harder facts.
- Step 4: Practice each times table on its own until it’s mastered.
- Step 5: Practice a mix of multiplication facts.
Notice how practice doesn’t come until step 4? Practice is important, but it’s not where you start! Teaching comes before practice.
Step 1: Break it up.
This is a short and easy step, but it’s important. Don’t overwhelm your child with all 100 multiplication facts at once. Instead, focus on just one times table at a time. (A times table is just one set of multiplication facts. For example, the ×6 table is 1×6, 2×6, 3×6, and so on up to 10×6.)
Breaking up the multiplication facts makes mastering the tables feel much more do-able (for kids and parents). Plus, your child can then use the easier facts as stepping-stones to the more difficult facts.
Step 2: Make the facts concrete with a multiplication array.
For each times table, first make sure your child understands concretely what the multiplication problems mean. Otherwise, the numbers are just sequences of abstract symbols–and they’re a lot harder to memorize.
In general, I’m a big fan of hands-on manipulatives for helping kids understand math. But with multiplication, manipulatives can become pretty unwieldy. It could take your whole math lesson just to count out 6 groups of 8 objects–and your child probably wouldn’t be much closer to remembering that 6 × 8 equals 48.
Instead, I like to use a simple grid of circles called a dot array. With a dot array, you can slide an L-shaped cover over the top of the array and show any multiplication fact you want from 1×1 up to 10×10. Here’s what the dot array and L-cover look like.
Here’s how you use them. For example, let’s say we wanted to help your child understand what 6 × 8 looks like. 6 × 8 means “6 groups of 8,” so slide the L-cover so that the dot array looks like this.
Each of the 6 rows has 8 dots, so there are 6 groups of 8 dots. So, the total number of dots in the array is the answer to 6 × 8.
How does visualizing the multiplication facts help kids remember the answers? That’s where Step 3 comes in.
Step 3: Teach your child to use easier facts as stepping stones to the harder facts.
Multiplication is a bit like climbing a huge pile of rocks. When you’re trying to reach the top, it’s a lot easier to climb up a few small rocks rather than try to scale a sheer rock face.
With multiplication facts, it’s much easier to use facts you’ve already learned as “stepping stones” to the harder facts rather than to memorize them by rote. The dot array will help your child do this!
For example, let’s go back to 6 × 8. It’s one of the toughest facts for kids to memorize, but most children find it quite easy when they use 5 × 8 as a stepping stone.
Here’s how you teach your child to use easier facts as a stepping stone to 6 × 8:
- 5 × 8 is 40. (5 × 8 makes a nice stepping stone, since children’s familiarity with 5s from their early years of arithmetic usually make the ×5 facts easy to learn.)
- 6 × 8 is just one more group of 8 than 5 × 8.
- So, you can just add 40 + 8 to find the answer: 6 × 8 = 48.
This strategy works for all of the ×6 facts. And the good news is that there are similar strategies for all the multiplication facts!
To use stepping stones, it’s helpful if your child knows how to add a 1-digit number to a 2-digit number mentally. If your child could use a little more practice with mental addition, I’ve put together a short lesson and game that will help him brush up on this skill.
With this combination of the dot array and stepping-stone facts, your child has a game plan for mastering all the multiplication facts for good. (Without having to memorize each fact individually.) Now, all you need are some effective practice techniques to help your child become fully automatic with all the multiplication facts.
Step 4: Practice each times table on its own until it’s mastered.
Once your child has learned how to use stepping-stone facts for a times table, focus on just that specific times table for several days. Use a mix of practice techniques to give your child some variety and make learning multiplication fun. I like using a mix of recitation, games, and worksheets, so that kids speak, see, and write the facts.
I know, reciting the times tables may seem old-fashioned. But, saying information aloud helps to cement it in your child’s memory. Plus, reciting each table in order helps your child understand how the facts in the table are related. For example, reciting “1 × 7 is 7. 2 × 7 is 14. 3 × 7 is 21…” reminds your child that each new fact in the ×7 table is 7 more than the previous fact. So, she can add 7 to each previous fact to help her remember the next one, because the facts in the table add a new group of 7 each time.
I heart math games! They make math fun and social, but they also have a huge teaching benefit: when you play a multiplication game with your child, you can monitor how well your child is using the strategies–and fix any mistakes before they become ingrained.
Worksheets aren’t the most exciting, but they’re an important practice component, since your child will often use multiplication in his written work. Keep worksheets short and sweet so that your child stays alert and focused.
Step 5: Mix those multiplication facts with other times tables.
Once your child has mastered the new times table, it’s time to mix up those multiplication facts with the facts she’s already mastered. Mixing them together provides cumulative review so that the facts are cemented in her long-term memory. Keep using recitation, games, and worksheets (and even flash cards, if you want) until your child has all 100 facts memorized.
- Related: 3 Fun (and Free!) Printable Multiplication Facts Games for practicing mixed multiplication facts
Teach Multiplication Facts That STICK
So, that’s all 5 steps! You’re now well-equipped to teach your child the multiplication facts (and not just drill stacks of flash cards.)
You could spend hours planning out lessons, making up your own worksheets, and scouring Pinterest for cute multiplication games. (And hey, if you like doing that kind of thing, go for it!) But, if you have other things to do, I’ve already done the work for you.
Multiplication Facts That Stick is an open-and-go, all-in-one book for teaching your child the multiplication facts. It gives you detailed lesson plans, fun games, and simple worksheets for every step of the process, so that you can teach your child multiplication facts that truly stick.