The ability to do mental math is an important skill for kids to have. What is mental math? The simplest mental math definition is math calculated in your head instead of calculated using a pencil and paper or a calculator.
When we teach our youngest children to memorize that 1+1=2, we’re introducing mental math exercises to them. It comes to some kids more easily than others, but most students can improve their ability to do math in their heads by using some fun mental math strategies for kids.
While the skill is helpful in school, it’s important to continue to teach kids how to do mental math so they can do more than just ace a math test. It will help them when they’re spending or saving money or trying to figure out how to evenly divide up cookies between friends.
It’s a skill they’ll be able to use well into their adult life. Reader’s Digest points out that mental math activities come in handy when trying to calculate a tip or doing construction and home improvement projects.
When To Teach Mental Math Strategies To Kids
Before creating a plan to do mental math practice with your child, it’s important to make sure there are no learning issues that should first be addressed. If your child is successful and working up to grade level in their math class at school, doing mental math activities at home should be fine.
However, if your child is struggling in math class, speak to their teacher to find out if there are additional issues that need to be taken care of first. If the teacher says that there are no underlying problems and your child simply needs more practice at home, it’s time for you to figure out how to teach mental math to kids.
How To Improve Mental Math At Home
There are plenty of websites that offer mental math trainer games that parents can use to make math fun. Some sites allow you to pick games based on elementary school grade levels. First graders are challenged with a basic addition game. Fifth graders unlock the secrets of mental math with fractions and decimal problems. Education.com also has fun online math games for various skill levels.
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Mental Math Games And Activities
Mental math games don’t have to be all digital. Board games like the Math Sprint Game are also entertaining ways to help kids learn how to improve mental math skills. Math Sprint is a mental math board game for kids 7 and up that helps them practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills.
In addition to improving math skills, the board game teaches reasoning and logic skills. Math Sprint is also designed to be played for short or long periods of time. It can be used for a quick skills brush up with younger kids or for an entire evening’s fun on family game night.
If you have a deck of cards in the house, you have a whole variety of mental math games. You can double the benefits of a simple game of Memory, where two cards at a time are turned over to find matches, by making it a mental math game, too. Ask kids to add the numbers on the two cards they turn over each time, whether they match or not.
Or, place 20 number cards face side up. Ask your child to find two cards that add up to a specific number, making sure there are definitely two cards available that can add up to that number. When you get down to the final two cards, ask your child to tell you what the sum is.
Fun Mental Math Strategies for Kids
Using games to brush up on mental math skills will help them improve their abilities, but it’s important to go beyond play. Try these strategies.
Find practical mental math opportunities. Board games, computer games, and card games are certainly fun and effective mental math practice for kids, but the skills they learn need to be used in their day to day lives, too. Look for opportunities to apply mental math skills in situations that come up naturally. When shopping at the store, ask kids to calculate percentages on sale items. At snack time, younger kids can figure out how to divide up the snacks so everyone gets an equal share.
Practice math hacks. Part of doing more complicated mental math is learning hacks - ways to break up the problem in your head in a different way than it would be done on paper. For example, if a math problem is 79 + 46, teach kids to regroup the numbers and add 70 + 40 (110) and 9 + 6 (15) and then add 110 + 15 together to make 125. Breaking the numbers into their tens and ones parts is a hack. Practice various hacks with your children that will help them look at math problems in a different way to solve them.
The End Goal of Mental Math
Although mental math is meant to be done in your head without a pencil and paper or a calculator, the end goal of mental math is not to do all math problems in your head. There are very few people who can solve complicated algebraic equations in their head, no matter how much mental math practice they have. But solid mental math skills can make it easier to do complicated mathematical equations on paper.
The end goal of mental math, therefore, is to teach kids the ability to do addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in their head for two main reasons.
The first is to be able to use it when math is needed in everyday situations without needing a pencil and paper to find the answer.
The second is to improve basic math skills, making it easier to do more complicated math equations, even if pencil and paper are needed for them. An added bonus of practicing fun mental math strategies for kids is increased confidence in math class as they advance from grade to grade.