How to Improve Math Skills in Young Students

Struggling with math is a common experience among young students.  Parents and teachers can ease the pain and improve math skills of their children and students with a few simple practices.

First, never tell a child you don’t like math.  This is poisoning the well.  If you don’t like math, don’t let on.  It’s O.K. to share your struggles with math, but go on to explain the joy you felt when you succeeded in learning a difficult concept.  If you didn’t feel joy then, rejoice in your accomplishment now so the child before you will be eager to learn and not be turned-off of math by your prejudice.

Second, avoid the use of calculators and discourage their use for simple calculations.  Ask any high school math or science teacher and she will tell you horror stories of students who could not add or subtract without a calculator.  The number of high school students who only understand multiplication and division as two buttons on a box would shock and outrage educators of previous generations.  You cannot teach someone to pilot a plane using only autopilot, and children will not learn math if they learn to depend on a calculator.

Third, use manipulatives.  Whether it is play money, pieces of candy, checkers, or even the children themselves, young students are concrete thinkers and need concrete objects to work with.  Need to multiply six times five?  Make six rows of five objects each and count them.  You have 5 objects 6 times.  Have four students divide 30 objects between them.  They see that each one gets seven objects with 2 objects left over.  By seeing and doing with concrete manipulatives, student recall, understanding, and application of mathematics will improve.

Fourth, use memorization and drill.  While young students need to learn the process of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing large numbers the most useful skill they can posses is instant recall of simple arithmetic facts.  Trying to work with fractions or multiply large numbers without knowing the times tables and single digit arithmetic facts is like trying to learn to read without first knowing the alphabet.  And there is no better method of perfecting recall than drill, drill, drill. 

Finally, the use flash cards or timed worksheets to improve speed and accuracy provide a competitive approach to motivate learners.  Whether working alone to improve a personal best or competing as teams with member’s improvement scoring points, creating a playful atmosphere can turn memorization and drill from a tedious activity to a fun learning experience.  There are also vidoe games which are essentially animated, interactive drill.  These can provide a fun alternative to the traditional worksheet or flashcard.

So make them eager, make them work, but make it fun and you will see an improvement in the math skills of young students.