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Back to the Basics

As a child I remember car rides with a distinct terror: multiplication table flashcards. I remember being in fear that they would be the center of discussion for the suddenly eternal car ride. I remember crying when my 7’s and 8’s tables just wouldn’t come as quickly as my 4’s tables. I remember my parents telling me it was the only piece of math I would use on a daily basis. And I remember thinking that I would rather go through life deaf, blind, mute, and without both hands if it meant I didn’t have to learn these tables. I’ll admit I was a bit melodramatic as a child.

Now, however, I can’t stop thanking my parents enough for their constant quizzing, prodding, and pushing that I remember my multiplication tables. True enough, the tables are the only piece of math I consistently use on a daily basis. I rarely have to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators, find the natural log, solve a differential equation, or find the volume of a sphere. But I do have to know 7 x 8 on a daily basis (and I’m really glad I know it’s 56…not 54 as I used to be convinced it was). This is not to say there aren’t professions out there that will frequently use all of the aforementioned mathematical skills, but in daily life for most people, multiplication and division are as far as we get. Memorizing the tables now will help your student for years to come.

I’m pretty sure my parents stopped quizzing me on my tables by 4th grade (although at the time it seemed like it went on until I left for college), and they never quizzed me after, but I still remember my tables (faster than most of my friends: math gurus and normal folk alike). Despite not working on them since I was 10-years-old the constant repetition my parents provided kept the tables solidly locked in my memory. Similarly, the foundation of the tables made it far easier in later math classes since I was able to calculate in my head without a calculator (I was able to use the calculator for more advanced functions).

If you want to help your student get better at math, the single greatest piece of advice I can give to you is to work on multiplication and division tables. They just have to be memorized. There’s not easy trick. So, buy a set of flashcards from a teaching shop (or maybe even Target). They’re not very expensive, but if you’re concerned about money then make your own. Put the equation on one side (4 x 6) and the answer on the other (24). Work with your kids in the car, during a commercial of their favorite show, while you’re making dinner, or while they’re getting ready for bed. Taking 10 minutes a day to get through some of the tables will make a huge different for your child. Not only will they be learning something (and in 10 minutes most kids won’t even realize it!), but they’ll also be gaining confidence. And we all know confidence lasts a lifetime.