In the introductory article, it was argued that learning mental math skills remains an important element of a child’s education, even in the age of the calculator. So what should you do if you feel your son or daughters mental math needs a boost? Rather than rushing headlong at the problem, it’s important to first establish how your student is performing in relation to their peer group, how mental math is taught at school and how engaged they are with the subject.
Start by meeting with the classroom teacher to find out how your child is taught mental math at school. Is it by using traditional methods which mix learning by rote and quiz type questioning? Does the class use eLearning software either for the delivery of mental math lessons on a whiteboard or for individual learning? In most cases, teaching will include a mix of all three elements, in which case it’s important to find out from your child which approach to learning they enjoy and respond to the most. The final question to ask the teacher is how your son or daughter is performing in relation to the class as a whole, when it comes to mental math. If their mental math performance is average or above average for their age, you can take an approach to improving their mental math skills which uses fun math games and activities, allowing the kid to progress at a rate that suits them. However, if your kid lags behind their peer group, a more structured and intensive period of remedial mental math is appropriate, in which you allocate a set amount of time each week to mental math activities and monitor their progress closely. Whichever approach is required, we’ll look at a few interesting ways to introduce mental math into your child’s everyday life in a way that they’ll be unaware that they’re improving their mental math skills.
Sports and Games Involving Mental Math
When I was at school, the best mental math student in our class was a kid who didn’t like math at all, but out of school he spent most of his time playing darts. He went on to study finance and is now a very successful merchant banker, which is a moral tale that will appeal to some parents more than others. However, darts is an excellent game for improving a child’s mental math skills. The game involves players in the full range of math: subtraction, addition, multiplication and division as part of the scoring process. Better still, the complexity of the mental math skills required to score and to calculate ‘finishes’ increases as a player’s darts skills improve, so that your kid’s mental math and darts abilities will improve hand in hand. For parents concerned about the safety implications of allowing kids to play darts, there are a number of junior darts alternatives for younger kids which follow the same format as playing conventional darts, but without any risk of injury.
The other traditional leisure activity that I advocate for improving mental math skills is playing board games. There are numerous board games which involve rolling dice to move around a board, but the one of the best board games for developing the complete range of mental math skills is Monopoly. When playing Monopoly each player moves around a board buying, developing and selling property with the aim of bankrupting all the other players in order to win. What makes Monopoly different from many board games is that one of the players is appointed banker, a role which requires them to manage many of the financial aspects of the game, including arranging mortgages on properties, taking payments and giving change. If you put a child whose mental math needs a boost in the role of banker (and ensure that the other players have the patience of saints) in time, you’ll find his or her mental math skills flourish while everyone is having fun. The great thing is that Monopoly gives everyone more than enough time for practical mental math practice, as the game has a reputation for being interminable. In fact, the longest recorded game of Monopoly lasted for 1,680 hours, which is 70 days or 10 weeks. Just think how good your young bankers mental math would be after such a monumental game and how frayed everyone else’s tempers might be as a result!
In the concluding article of the series, we’ll consider the role that online math games can play in improving a kid’s mental math skills.