A Parent's Guide to Learning Multiplication Tables
Learning the multiplication (or times) tables (or facts) is a rite of passage for school children - a kind of club membership that transforms their confidence once they join.
Multiplication tables seem easy when you've learned them, but the prospect of having to learn them drives fear into children - and this in turn has a negative effect on learning.
And then there's the difference between "learning" the tables and "mastering" them - how well should they know them? In this article, I'm going to look into learning times tables and provide some useful tips on how parents can help at home.
This diagram shows the 144 times tables multiplication facts that every child needs to memorize.
Think of them like a daunting climbing wall - when you're a first-timer standing at the foot looking up it's scary, but once you start making a few hand and foot holds it gets much easier.
One secret is choosing the right route - but we'll deal with that later. First, let's consider what we mean by "memorizing" and "mastering."
It's tempting to think that being able to answer the times tables and mastering them is the same thing. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Children need to be able to recall any multiplication tables answer within two or three seconds - preferably in one second. That leaves no time for counting the way up to the answer from 2x, 3x, 4x etc. The answer has to pop out of memory pretty much instantly.
It sounds harsh but this level of "number fluency" is the ideal foundation for any child - so how do we get there?
In what order should we learn multiplication tables?
We, of course, start with the easy tables first - these are the 10, 2 and 5 times tables.
The 10 times tables are a natural part of counting, the two times tables are familiar because of doubling, they are even numbers, and they simply chant so well: “2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate…” The 5 times tables are helped by knowing the 10 times tables and the fact that we have five fingers.
There's some debate as to which are easiest from here but the 4 and 9 times tables are usually next. The 4 times tables are double the 2 times tables and the 9 times tables have a few shortcuts to help you learn them. After this you could try the 3 times tables followed by the 6 times tables. Then come the 8 times tables and the 7 times tables, which are generally regarded as difficult.
Language and times tables
There are many different ways to say the tables and they're all correct - but it helps if you're consistent and if you adopt the language your child already uses at school. For example we have:
three times eight is...
three multiplied by x is...
three eights are...
three lots of four are...
So just be aware that what makes sense to you might confuse your child.
What are the methods for learning tables?
Stick to one times table at a time to minimize confusion
Start with chanting and writing them out slowly in order
Then move on to completing the answers quickly in order - on paper or verbally with your child
Finally, move on to completing the answers in any order
Keep reminding your child that 3 x 4 is the same as 4 x 3 - this effectively halves the number of tables facts
Each times table has a square number 3x3, 7x7 etc (see the colored numbers in the tables grid above). These are special "hand or foot holds" that can act as memory hooks - emphasize them!
Talk about the numbers are you encounter them "5 x 8 = 40 that's mummy's age" , "3 x 6 = 18 that's our house number" ... this makes more memory hooks
When you're trying to speed up recalling tables, introduce some games. We have lots of suggestions for math games you can play with your child in our blog.
What are the tips and tricks for learning each times table?
The 2, 4, and 8 times tables are doubles of each other, with many common answers - 2x8=16, 4x4=16, 8x2 = 16
The nine times tables can use the ten times tables and work back or compensate - so for 5 x 9, think ( 5 x 10 ) - 5 = 50 - 5 = 45, also note that the digits in the answer always add to 9. There's also a finger method which I'm not a big fan of.
The 3 and 6 times tables are tricky. Do the 3s first then the 6s - expect these to be more difficult and make an allowance in time
The 7 times tables are hard but if you've done the other tables first you'll find you've encountered most of the 7s already elsewhere - such as 7x4=28, 7x3=21
7x8=56 is the hardest times table! - but tell this to your child and make a big deal about it and they'll never forget it!
Mastering the times tables
You can know all the times tables without really going on to master them. So once your child has learned the times tables individually the next stage involves practising recalling them quickly in any random order.
The practice can be verbal or written but either way you're looking for accurate answers within three seconds. Mastering math facts is what Komodo is all about - it provides the an effective and rewarding way to help your child master operations at home.
It makes sense to take stock of where your child is with tables before trying to help them. To do this we've developed a unique tables quiz that identifies exactly where to start.
Take the Free Kickstart Tables Quiz - in 10 minutes you'll have a times tables progress report.
Kickstart not only identifies which tables your child knows but it will also guide you in which are truly mastered.
About Komodo - Komodo is a fun and effective way to boost K-5 maths skills. Designed for 5 to 11 year olds to use in the home, Komodo uses a little and often approach to learning maths (15 minutes, three to five times per week) that fits into the busy family routine. Komodo helps users develop fluency and confidence in maths - without keeping them at the screen for long.