Teaching Tips - Math - For Children

Work Carefully and Double Check

To do math well, you have to do each operation perfectly. This may sound tough, but it's the only way to go, and it's not as bad as it sounds.

Multi-Step Problems

The problem is that most problems have several steps, and if you make a mistake on any step, you get the wrong answer for the problem.

For example, if you are adding two numbers with three digits each (e.g. 237 + 588), you have to do three operations (you have to add the units, the tens, and the hundreds). If you make a mistake on any one of them, the final answer will be wrong. And this is a very simple problem.

It's not long before the children have to do multi-multi-step problems, where they might do ten or more operations in one problem. Multiplying a 3 digit number by a 3 digit number (e.g. 273 x 486) has at least 12 steps - 9 single digit multiplications, and 3 or more columns of single digit additions which often have 2 single digit additions in each column.

Once you get beyond the basic math facts (beyond single digit multiplication), most problems have quite a few steps. You have to get every single operation correct, or you are wasting your time doing the rest (it usually takes just about as long to go over a problem again, to find a mistake, as it does to do it correctly the first time).

Work Carefully

The most important way to get every operation correct, is to learn to do each step very carefully. This may seem very obvious to us parents, but it is worth encouraging your child to work very carefully when doing math.

Explain to them, the above stuff, about how doing it right the first time will save them a lot of play time (by getting their math done sooner). Show them how one mistake cancels the value of the rest of the work.

I tell them, "We need to realize that when we are learning anything, there are often mistakes. This is part of the learning process. Don't worry too much if you are making some mistakes. Do the best you can, so when you are done learning, you know how to do it correctly."

Double Check Each Calculation

One way is to double check each calculation, as you do it. At first, it seems a bit tedious, but once they get in the habit of double checking, it's not that bad, and it really increases their chances of getting the correct answer. And getting more correct answers really encourages them.

Double checking becomes a part of being more careful.

Double checking also teaches children focus and care, in itself.

For Parents

Again, I carefully explain this concept to the child, and exactly why they need to do math perfectly (very carefully) or it gets frustrating, so they take their time and learn it well, and do it well.

Give them lots of encouragement to do their math carefully. And be patient with them, and encourage them to be patient with themselves. But balance this carefully with encouraging them to do their best to get the right answer on each step.

Also see our article "Why Correct Answers Matter - Math Motivation."

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