A little repetition goes a long way when it comes to learning m

March 05, 2004|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

"Amy had not made a real wish at all. When Mitchell had blown away her first wish, she had been standing with her eyes closed trying to decide which of several wishes to choose - something with whipped cream on it for dessert, lots of birthday-party invitations in the fourth grade, or the president of the United States abolishing the multiplication tables."

And so begins the second chapter of Beverly Cleary's "Mitch and Amy."

It seems that some things haven't changed since 1967 when Cleary wrote about the adventures of a delightful set of fourth-grade twins.

Kids still like eating whipped cream, attending birthday parties and would love being pardoned from learning multiplication.

My 8-year-old considers this next step in math a necessary evil, and each time I say, "It's time to go over your multiplication tables," I see the groan on his face before it escapes his lips.

It's not that multiplication is all that difficult, it just requires a certain measure of discipline, concentration and memorization - three attributes kids tend to avoid as much as possible.


Like other math applications, I think multiplication can be learned the old-fashioned way, with a little repetition going a long way.

We use flash cards of the times tables, but only spend about five or 10 minutes at a time reviewing facts. I'm a nice mom. Really, I am. I just drill him a little at a time and make sure there's time for lots of fun in between the work.

Janet Magee of Shepherdstown, W.Va., incorporates fun in the work by putting the times tables to the tunes of popular songs.

Her daughter learned the threes table by singing them to "Jingle Bells."

See if you can do it. Substitute this: "3-6-9, 12-15, 18-21. 24, 27, 30 and we're done," for this (second line of chorus that ends the song): "Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way. Oh what fun, it is to ride, in a one horse open sleigh."

Her family put the fours table - "4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36 and 40 more" - to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

They put the sixes to "Yankee Doodle," the sevens to "Silent Night" and made up some raps for the eights and nines.

She says the idea for skip counting came from Steve Demme's Math-U-See curriculum,

"You can play with songs you know and see if you can match them with the numbers," says Magee, who has a background in speech pathology. "I think music is very powerful in terms of getting information in the mind."

Here are some other multiplication-learning aides:

  • Play Star Count with your child. You'll need paper, pencils and dice. Each player rolls one die and draws that number of circles on his paper. He tosses the die again and draws that number of stars inside each circle. Then he multiplies the number of stars in each circle by the number of circles to get his score. For example, if the first roll is three and the next roll is six, that would be three circles containing six stars each. The score would be 18. The person with the highest score wins. This game is recommended in Peggy Kaye's "Games for Math" book. She writes that the game allows students to get a pictorial version of how teachers describe multiplication in terms of grouping numbers: three groups with six in each group.

  • Nifty nines: Check a product (the answer of a multiplication problem) on the nines table by using your fingers. Try this: Bend the little finger on your left hand. Pretend that is the one in 1x9. There are nine fingers to the right of your bent finger, so the answer is nine. Straighten your pinkie and bend the ring finger on your left hand. Pretend that is the two in 2x9. Now there's one finger up to the left of your bent finger and eight fingers up to the right of your bent finger. The answer is 18.

    P.S. - Beverly Cleary's books, while written several decades ago, cover some timeless themes for 8- and 9-year-olds. Her books also make great read-alouds for adults to share with children. Many of her titles are available at Washington County Free Library.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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