## Mad Math Minutes

If you have children in the early elementary grades, you are likely familiar with the timed math tests. You know, the single-digit addition, subtraction, and then multiplication facts that are thrust on the kids with great regularity. What is that all about? What’s the big deal?

Automaticity. It’s not about math, per se. It’s about “just knowing” very basic information, such as “3” is the symbol for “three,” or that “a” is the letter a. Once that information is automatic, children can move on to learning how numbers relate to each other, first by counting and then by adding. Similarly with letters, once children can identify them on the page, they learn that the symbol “b” makes the /b/ sound. After learning their consonants, they are introduced to the tricky letters called vowels – they often make 2 sounds: “a” makes the sounds /ă/ and /ā/.

So what does this have to do timed math tests? They are the building blocks of calculation. Once children learn their math facts, all other calculations can be completed more quickly and with less effort. Remember when you were learning to drive a car? You had to think about everything and it took all of your attention. But now, you likely do lots of things while driving and the act of driving is automatic and the brain is freed up to do other things. Similarly, by “over learning” math facts to the point of automaticity, it makes more complicated math skills easier to acquire.

Imagine if you will, a child who easily learns his multiplication tables. He no longer has to figure out what 9 X 3 is. He just knows it’s 27. However, sitting next to him is another student who can figure out that same problem. Now, multi-digit multiplication is introduced. The first student only has to learn the new process – what steps to take and in what order. The second student has to learn the new process, but also has to focus on performing the calculations correctly, is likely to make more errors, and has less attention available to apply to new learning. Therefore, automaticity makes future learning easier.

OK – So it makes things easier. But, is it really necessary to stress out kids who are having trouble performing those simple calculations quickly? No. If these tests are stressing your child out, something is wrong. There may be too much emphasis on them. There may not be the support necessary to help students who don’t learn such material easily through rote memorization. Some kids need visual tools, such as 10 X 10 number boards. Others use songs. Flashcards are not the only option. This is a great opportunity to allow your child some screen time – there are many aps out there that facilitate skill development. Find a way to make it more fun and your child more successful, so that he or she can be “fast enough” to keep up in class. Also, keep this experience in mind…if your child struggles with other academic skills, view them together as red flags and consider an evaluation to see if something bigger is going on.

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