A Parent's Guide to Helping Kids Learn Multiplication Tables

A Parent

Everything you need to know about kids learning multiplication tables.

Why do kids need to learn the multiplication tables?

To make fewer mistakes. The multiplication facts kids learn will frequently appear in their working out for complex math in the future. Every calculation has the potential to make an error whereas recalling well-learned facts is much less error prone.

Recognition. Many tasks in their future math education will require kids to recognise multiples and factors. Kids who know the multiplication tables can see a number and know its multiples and factors.

Reduce cognitive load. Our working memory is not unlimited. Recalling a memorised fact is much quicker than calculating it, especially when that calculation is part of a much bigger process involving more complex math.

Versatility. Memorising the multiplication tables brings with it an equal number of division facts.

To pass tests. It might be a circular and controversial argument, but if schools measure kids progress with tests, kids need to past them. Failing school tests harms kids' confidence and opportunities.

How can you help kids learn the multiplication tables?

Listen. Have kids recite the multiplication tables they have learned to you and praise their success.

Quickfire questions. It is not enough for kids to be able to recite the multiplication tables; they must be able to jump straight to the relevant answer without going through the whole multiplication table. Every so often, without warning, get them to give you the answer to a multiplication.

Don't forget division. Remember that division and multiplication are closely linked. Use questions such as I know that 5×4=20, so what is 20÷5? Later, you can go straight to the division.

Make them visible. Print out the multiplication tables and stick them on a wall near where your kids do their homework. Frequently seeing and using them will help the memorisation process.

Apps. Rote learning and repeated practice are essential to memorise times tables but not the most stimulating of tasks. Use apps to gamify the learning experience, keep kids interested, help them learn independently, and see their progress.

What features are best in a multiplication app?

The best features in any educational app are the ones that help your child learn best. This is different for every child, which is why the Parent App Library uses independent teacher reviewers to assess each app and verify its features and quality.

Here are a list of features commonly found in multiplication apps and the learning styles and circumstances they suit.

Gamification. Gamification is a powerful motivator for many kids and adults. It does not necessarily mean that the app plays like a game but has game-like features. These could include gameplay, leaderboards, achievement badges, and streaks —  all things kids would recognise from popular computer games.

Age-neutrality. Schools might aim for kids to learn the multiplication tables by a given age, but that does not mean every child will. Older kids might need support learning or refreshing their knowledge. For these kids, look for multiplication apps with graphics that do not make them feel like they are using an app for much younger kids.

Customisation. If your kids have already mastered many multiplication tables, they won't appreciate having to spend time on them just to learn the ones that need further work. Many multiplication tables apps let players select which tables to concentrate on or exclude.

Payment options. Your goal is for your kids to no longer need multiplication tables apps. It may not make sense to choose a subscription-based app if your kids are partway through learning the multiplication tables.

Visual guides. Kids need to know what multiplication represents. For example, they should recognise that 3×4 is the same as 4+4+4 or 3+3+3+3. Some apps help make this connection very clear with dynamic diagrams and grids.

Feedback. Parents might want a dashboard where they can check that their kids have been using an app and what progress their kids have made. A visual record of progression motivates kids and allows you to acknowledge and reward their efforts.

What does it mean to know the times tables?

Different state standards and national curricula use various phrases to require kids to learn the multiplication tables.

The Program of Study for the English National Curriculum says: 'Pupils should be taught to recall multiplication and division facts for multiplication tables up to 12×12'.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) addresses learning about multiplication in grades 3 to 5.

Some countries concentrate on learning up to 10×10, with others going up to 12×12. These are chosen as convenient cut-off points rather than for any particular reason. Going up to ten suits our reliance on the decimal system. Going up to 12 is a historical remnant of traditional or imperial measurements.

Not all standards and curricula emphasise the recall of multiplication facts as clearly as the English NC but teachers and schools usually expect kids to learn them off by heart. In other words, if asked for the product of two numbers up to 12, kids should be able to answer from memory without carrying out any calculations.

What does it mean to know the multiplication tables?

Various schools and regions have different standards. The one defined by the English National Curriculum is helpful because it is based on research rather than intuition of what seems right.

At the end of Year 4 (ages 8-9), kids in England take a short computer-based test on the multiplication tables up to 12×12. They have up to six seconds to answer each question.

The test uses a six-second time limit because the research showed that this gave the best balance between giving young kids time to recall a fact and not enough time to calculate the answers if they did not know them.

Whether kids follow the English NC or not, its research-based requirements provide a useful idea of what kids who have memorised the multiplication tables should be able to do.

Is it enough for kids to be able to calculate answers to multiplication tables rather than memorising them?

Teachers encourage kids to develop strategies to perform quick mental arithmetic, but the six-second time limit of the Multiplication Tables Check is meant to prevent kids using them. We want kids to have memorised and recalled the answers, not calculated them.

This requirement is because memorisation and recall are less prone to errors than calculations. Remember, the purpose of knowing the answers to the multiplication tables is to provide the foundations for many future math skills and their application.

Calculation does not allow recognition of multiples. Someone who has memorised the multiplication tables can see the number 48 and know it is a multiple of 2,4,6, and 8. Someone who has to calculate it does not have this quick and easy recognition. Calculating could introduce potential errors and slowdown when reducing or simplifying fractions.

Calculation has a higher cognitive load than memorisation. It is only in kids’ early learning that they will be answering questions like 8×6. Later, it will be one step among many to reach an answer, and kids will have to hold more information in their working memory. Under pressure or when the information is complex, there is a greater chance of mixing up a number when calculating, whereas recall has the answer immediately available.

It can be challenging to detect when very able kids have not learned the multiplication tables as their calculating ability is so quick. However, their ability means that one day they will work with math that taxes their ability and will be just as susceptible to the cognitive load causing mistakes.

Which areas of math require kids to know multiplication tables?

Knowing the multiplication tables and understanding the concept of multiplication are fundamental to math involving percentages, fractions, factors, multiples, area, algebra and many more. Recalling multiplication facts will be required when answering simple and complex word problems.

Find the best apps: Best Multiplication Apps for Kids

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