Helping Your Child with (Mental) Math

How you encourage and promote your child’s math learning, from preschool to high school, can be pivotal to their attitude toward math and their achievement in this subject area. Children are taught math in school, but research shows that families are an essential part of this learning process. In other words, by doing math with your child and supporting math learning at home, you can make a great difference.

The following are some important things you should know and do:

1. Problems can be solved in different ways. While some problems in math may have only one solution, there may be many ways to get the right answer. And remember, the way you solve a problem may not be the way your child solves the very same problem. Learning math is not only finding the correct answer, it’s also a process of solving problems and applying what you have learned to new problems. If their way of solving the problem gets the job done, let them give it a try.

2. Wrong answers can help! While accuracy is always important, a wrong answer could help you and your child discover what your child may not understand. The wrong answer tells you to look further, to ask questions, and to see what the wrong answer is saying about the child’s understanding. It is highly likely that when you studied math, you were expected to complete lots of problems using one, memorized method to do them quickly. Today, the focus is less on the quantity of memorized problems and memorized methods and more on understanding the concepts and applying thinking skills to arrive at an answer.

3. Doing math in your head is important. Have you ever noticed that today very few people take their pencil and paper out to solve problems in the grocery store, restaurant, department store, or in the office? Instead, most people estimate in their heads, or use calculators or computers. Using calculators and computers demands that people put in the correct information and that they know if the answers are reasonable. Usually people look at the answer to determine if it makes sense, applying the math in their head (mental math) to the problem. This, then, is the reason mental math is so important to our children as they enter the 21st century. Using mental math can make children become stronger in everyday math skills.

In terms of mental math, here are some questions you might ask your 3rd through 6th graders (no pencils and paper allowed):

Start off easy with –

98 + 47

51 + 99

146 – 101

5 x 99

150 + 199

137 – 99

99 + 49

4 x 24

58 + 16

65 – 19

Then increase the level of difficulty with –

You buy an $80. dress which has been reduced 20%. How much did it cost?

What is 3/8’s of 40?

6 ½ – 2 ¼ =

What is 75% of 32?

What is 10 squared divided by 5?

You get the idea. Now think of real-life questions that you face every day.