As my youngest is almost twenty, it had been quite a while since I taught primary arithmetic. Now that I am helping out with my grandchildren, I realize some things never change.

Little learners still have to memorize their math facts— addition, and subtraction—and Mom, or in this case Grandma, still has to drill them. Each time I open *Math 2 For Young Catholics *to one of those long drill pages, I think to myself that it must seem like approaching Mt. Everest to a little kid. But just as mountain climbers have special tools, so too have I picked up a trick or two through the years to smooth the path.

The earliest math skills are learning how to count and then to recognize the numeral that stands for each number. Seton sends workbooks, and the lesson plans have lots of enrichment ideas, but here is my trick to make it all fun. Draw the numerals, first in order, with sidewalk chalk in a straight line on your sidewalk or driveway. Have the child jump on each number and yell out its name—little boys love this! Have him jump from lowest to highest, and then highest to lowest, counting backwards, and scream out “blastoff” when he gets to the end. When that is conquered, mix up the order of the numbers. Very efficient – math and gym class in one.

The math workbooks have lots of illustrations to teach addition and subtraction, and most children pick these up pretty easily. When the pages progress to simple number sentences (5 + 4 = 9), without the illustrations, some children struggle. By all means, continue to use manipulatives, such as blocks, an abacus, or even their fingers, for as long as it takes children to understand the concepts.

Eventually, young learners run out of fingers. I tell them to put the bigger number in their heads. For example, for 8 + 3, tell the child to put the 8 in her head and then count three more on her fingers. In this case the 8 is now in the abstract while the 3 is still concrete. Then reinforce the “fact families” that are in the workbook. If the child can figure out 8 + 3 = 11, then he knows that 3 + 8 = 11, and 11 – 3 = 8, and 11 – 8 = 3. Children often get a boost by filling in all the answers on a drill page related to a particular fact family—it makes them see that they are making some progress.

Usually, students can memorize the +1, +2 and even +3 facts pretty easily. Then have them work on doubles: 2 + 2, 3 + 3, etc. Once those are conquered, it is a small jump to the related facts. For example, is 4 + 4 = 8, then 5 + 4 must be 1 more, or 9, because 5 is 1 more than 4.

Children learn the +10 facts pretty easily: just look at the other number and say “teen”, so for example 4 + 10 = 14. Little kids love to show off. Ask them, “How can 10 + 2 be 2-teen?” They will be happy to inform you that 2-teen is actually 12. It’s just a little bit trickier to learn the +9 facts: look at the other number, take away 1, and say “teen.” 9 + 6, take 1 away from 6, and say “teen,” and your answer is 5-teen, which the student will be happy to correct you is 15. With +8 facts, take away 2 from other number, and say “teen.”

When my granddaughter is working on a page in Math 2 that drills addition and subtraction facts, I encourage her first to fill in the answers she knows. Right away, she answers the +1’s, +2’s, doubles, +10’s and +9’s, or their related subtraction facts. Typically that knocks off a big chunk of the page, making the remaining problems seems more doable. She’s not quite ready for speed tests, but she feels happy and confident, and not overwhelmed, when she sees her daily assignment is a drill sheet.

Hopefully, these ideas might give that same confidence to your little learners at home!

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