Math Fluency and Automaticity

Math Fluency and Automaticity

Why fluency and automaticity are crucial parts of math skills

Kids need to learn new topics in math, but they also need to practise their existing skills to build accuracy and speed. Arithmetic (adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing) is where parents can help their kids improve in math even if they're not confident in their numeracy abilities. 

Kids already have the basics, and the nature of arithmetic suits short bursts of practice that result in quick progress building automaticity or fluency in math.

What is fluency or automaticity in math?

When you read a word, you don’t break it down letter by letter unless it is unfamiliar. It is the same in math. When you see 2+2, you don’t do any mental calculations; you know the answer because you’ve seen and answered it a million times before.

The more fluent a person is in arithmetic, the more calculations this will apply to.

When kids learn multiplication tables, they build their math fluency to complete these very common calculations rapidly and accurately. We can also apply it to other calculations, including addition and subtraction.

Why do we want kids to develop fluency or automaticity in math?

Improving math fluency improves speed and accuracy. Answers come to mind easily and with a much reduced likelihood of errors. 

When is math fluency or automaticity most important?

Young kids focus on answering standalone arithmetic questions as they learn how numbers work. Later in math class, these calculations form part of a series of steps towards an answer. Real-world math problems often require two or more calculations to solve.

We all have a limited working memory where we hold the current problem and actions we must follow. The more kids must think about the details in a multi-step problem, such as answering a simple arithmetic calculation, the more chance they have of making a mistake as their thoughts derail.

How can we help kids develop math fluency or automaticity in math?


Any time is good to practice this skill, but school breaks and the long summer vacation are especially great times to concentrate on this skill with a well-chosen app.

Support the app by asking relevant questions on journeys or spending time with your kids this summer.

Set a measurable goal, such as reaching a certain level in the app or improving their best times to a chosen level.

You could even provide extra motivation through competition. Kids and parents can compete on arithmetic as they all know the basics — the challenge is to get faster and more accurate.

Choose an app with family sharing so you can all use it and see who has the best results at the end of the school break.

We've got a list of apps to help your kids improve their math fluency and speed: 10 Best Speed Math Apps

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