Helping Children Learn Math Facts

By — Member Contribution
Updated on Mar 15, 2011
The time you will invest in setting up a math facts program will be well worth it. Number lines, charts, counters, and calculators are great tools to introduce addition, subtraction, and multiplication, but the bottom line is that fluency and knowing the correct answers to math facts is essential! If children do not memorize the math facts, they will always struggle with math.
If you are working with a very young child, or one who has special needs, first determine if your child understands what numbers are, and if your child can:
  1. Count to at least 18 for addition and subtraction facts. (Count to at least 81 for multiplication facts.)
  2. Correctly count a given number of items. (Can your child see 3 buttons or 14 dots and count that number of items correctly?)
  3. Identify numbers and show what those numbers mean. (5 means five / / / / /  items.)
If your child demonstrates these readiness skills, and you are introducing addition and subtraction, then take the time to make sure your child can use counters or pictures to show what the concepts of addition and subtraction mean. This is very important.
For example, your child should be able to show with a drawing on paper or by using counters or other objects that 5+3 means five objects and three objects, and that the total is eight items. (3+5 is the same answer.) Use meaningful story math problems. If you have 5 pennies, and mom gives you 3 more pennies, how many pennies will you have in all?
Your child show should be able to show that 11-4 means there are eleven items and four were taken away. There were 11 cookies. Dad ate 4. There are 7 cookies left.
When ready to multiply, your child should be able to show that 4x6 means there are four groups and each group has six items in it for a total of 24? There are 4 plates. Each plate has 6 pretzels. There are 24 pretzels in all. (6x4 is the same answer, but means 6 groups of 4.)

Once the above prerequisite skills are in place, it is time to teach strategies and tricks to help your children memorize math facts! Once you get started, you and your child will see that it does not take up a lot of time, and it is easy, and even fun to learn math facts.

Setting Up the Math Facts Program

(Skip to step 7 if you are teaching a beginning learner never introduced to math facts.)

Two reproducible workbooks, Two Plus Two Is Not Five: Easy Methods to Learn Addition and Subtraction and Five Times Five Is Not Ten: Make Multiplication Easy, provide record-keeping pages, worksheets to introduce math fact strategies, and lots of practice and review pages.

  1. Use sets of commercial math fact cards to determine which math facts are mastered or "known." “Known” means facts answered automatically and correctly without counting. You can make your own set of test cards, but in either case, only test up to 9+9 and 18-9. Check addition first, then subtraction. For students working on multiplication, test this last or on another day.
  2. Explain that you want to find out which facts they already know, and that you will teach them the other facts. Tell them it is okay if they do not know some facts, and that they will not have time to count out answers.
  3. How much time should you give for an answer? I do a check to see how long it takes for an answer that I am fairly sure the child will know. (1+1, 2+2, or 5+5) Say, “What is 5+5?” Most likely, you will get a very quick and correct response of 10. Then ask, “What is 14-6?” There might be some hesitation, and maybe a mental or finger count to get the answer of eight.
  4. Keep a record of known facts. Both books provide record-keeping pages for you to use, or you can manually list the known facts onto a sheet of paper.

As mentioned, the program initially takes time for set-up. Allot about 15-30 minutes per child to "test" which facts each child knows. Later, during planning time, make a fact card for each known fact for each of your children.

  1. I use bright colored markers to write the facts on 3" by 5" blank index cards. Keep the cards in a rubber-banded piles labeled with the child’s name. Put addition and subtraction facts in one pile, and multiplication cards in another. Excluding Zero facts, there are 81 addition, 81 subtraction, and 81 multiplication facts to learn in all.


3 x 6


  1. Day 2. Review these “known” fact cards. Remember, your child knows them, so they will be easy to answer, and your child will feel good about saying the answers quickly! (If there are a few facts that your child answers incorrectly, perhaps it was a lucky guess on test day. Pull out of the pile, and make sure you note that on the record-keeping page to teach on another day.)
  2. Teach a few new math facts each day. Make new fact cards, and mark the record-keeping sheet. Add the new facts to the stack of known facts, and continue to practice daily. Give children a strategy or trick to remember and memorize the math fact. Some math facts have multiple strategies, and you may know some of your own.
Set the pace at the child's ability. Some children will be ready to learn new facts during each practice session; others may not. Keep your child successful, and remember to praise.
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