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Helping your kids with their times tables

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Times tables are one of those things that you just have to learn. And knowing them really well definitely helps all through your Maths career at school, and really all through life – working out bills, shopping, discounts etc.

When your child first starts out learning times tables, I think it’s really important that they understand what multiplying actually is. That way, even if they forget what e.g. 6 x 7 is, they know how to work it out. It also means they will understand how knowing their times tables helps them quickly work out harder multiplications mentally e.g. understanding that 23 x 9 is just (20 x 9) + (3 x 9) and indeed 20 x 9 is just 2 x 9 with a zero on the end!

I’m going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of

  1. What is multiplication and how do I help teach my child?
  2. Tricks for remembering.
  3. Games/activities I can do to help re-enforce them.

Feel free to jump ahead to the section that’s best for you!

What is multiplication and how do I help teach my child?

This might seem obvious, but when you’ve been doing something for years it’s easy to forget how to explain it to those just setting out on their multiplication journey. Multiplication is repeated addition, or working out groups of objects. For example, consider 4 x 5. Firstly, remember that 4 x 5 = 5 x 4 (if you want the formal mathematical terminology, multiplication is commutative). Therefore we can consider 4 x 5 as either 4 groups of 5, or 5 groups of 4. In other words, we add 5 together 4 times (i.e. 5, 10, 15, 20) or we add 4 together 5 times (4, 8, 12, 16, 20). It’s important to know this because if a child says to you ‘I’ve no idea what 7 x 5 is’, but you know they know how to count in 5s, then you can encourage them to work it out. In the early stages of dealing with multiplication, understanding how to get to your answer is as important as remembering the answer (arguably more so).

The first times table that a child will generally learn is the 2 x table. Often, the concept is introduced well after a child has learnt to ‘double’ or ‘halve’. Here’s where you can help them to bring the two concepts together. I often have children who can answer ‘what’s double 8’ in a second, but if I ask them ‘what’s 2 x 8’, they have to take a while counting in 2s to work it out. There’s nothing wrong with this as they are getting to grips with terminology and their sense of number. But try and help them understand that doubling a number is the same as multiplying by 2. After all, doubling simply means taking 2 groups instead of 1 group – which is precisely multiplying by 2. This will help them feel confident in mastering the 2x table. Incidentally, halving comes in when you are considering dividing by 2 – but I’m sticking to multiplication in this post as division is really an exact corollary of multiplication.

Kids tend to pick up the 10 x table pretty quickly. They find it easy to count in 10s, and quickly learn that really you just add a zero to the number! And it doesn’t take them long to learn counting in 5s either, and therefore being able to do the 5x table. But here’s where you can bring in some links (and the more links, the greater the depth of understanding). If you can multiply by 10, and you know how to halve, then you can multiply by 5! For example, consider 5 x 3. That’s the same as (10 x 3)/2 or 30/2. This link may take time as halving numbers over 24 may not be something they are quick at yet. But getting better at times tables isn’t something unique to KS1/KS2 – it’s important throughout school (and beyond). After all, (almost) everyone has a non-calculator paper in GCSE maths! Here’s a very brief example of how to halve numbers quickly:

Once kids truly understand multiplication, then learning the tables by rote is probably the best way to ensure very quick recall. There’s no harm in doing both in tandem. They need to know their tables, so even if they haven’t fully understood what they’re doing yet, there is still value in just learning them. But don’t give up on the understanding as that will get them so much further!

Tricks for remembering the times tables

This is aimed at all ages – those starting out, and those that haven’t thought about them for years but suddenly find they need them at their finger tips!

  1. Don’t forget you can count up in the number you’re multiplying by if you need to e.g. 8 x 7 – count up in 7s or 8s.
  2. If you know the 2 x table, then you know the 4 x table – just double your answer to the 2 x. And you know the 8 x table – double again! For example, 2 x 9 = 18. So 4 x 9 = 2 x 18 = 36. And then 8 x 9 = 2 x 36 = 72. If doubling is tricky for you, try the inverse of the method I have shown you above (see picture below this section).
  3. In just the same way, if you know the 3 x table, then you can double your answer to get the 6 x table and double again to get the 12 x table.
  4. And if you know the 3 x table, then multiply by 3 again to get the 9 x table.
  5. Hopefully most people have been shown the hand trick for the 9 x table, but if not, here’s how to do it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBTGKiVgWcA.
  6. Another way to get the 12 x table is to add your answer to 10 x and 2 x. So for example, 12 x 8 = 10 x 8 + 2 x 8 = 80 + 16 = 96.

Games and activities for re-enforcing times tables

Here are a few things I have used over the years that seem to work well.

  1. Listen to a times table CD in the car. It’s amazing how effectively the kids seem to absorb this (and you may even find yourself singing along!). I like https://amzn.eu/d/9skH4LX.
  2. Use tablet/computer games. There’s times tables rock stars and maths shed. There’s also a great website https://www.topmarks.co.uk/Search.aspx?Subject=16 which has loads of maths games for free, and my favourite one for learning things by rote (good for number bonds too!) is ‘Hit the Button’ – https://www.topmarks.co.uk/maths-games/hit-the-button.
  3. Play times tables top trumps. This one is an absolute favourite with my students. Twinkl have some great ones that you can print out. A subscription to Twinkl is really not expensive, and if you would like ready access to lots of useful educational materials, then it’s a good one. https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t2-m-1033-monster-multiplication-top-trumps
  4. Colour by number sheets can be good for those motivated by craft activities. There are endless places you can find these online, but here’s one – https://superstarworksheets.com/math-worksheets/multiplication-worksheets/multiplication-color-by-number/.

I hope that helps a bit!

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