There are many reasons why learning times tables off by heart is vital: not only will easy recall of times tables help your child excel in the mathematics papers for prep school entry, but also this ability will boost your child’s confidence generally. Finally, it’s an important ‘life’ skill: something they’ll use often, throughout their life, outside of the classroom.
In this article, we’ll run through how to learn times tables and some of the key ‘times tables checkpoints’ – what your child needs to know, by when – and provide handy tips and fun activities for learning.
Why are Times Tables Important?
Times tables aren’t only valuable in themselves: they’re a gateway into a wider world of mathematical learning. It is important how to learn times tables, as it helps children to improve mental arithmetic, begin to understand the relationships between numbers, and start to spot patterns. For example, times tables are crucial to mastering multiplication and division – concepts which are crucial to examination success in primary school and beyond.
Competency in certain times tables is also a necessity at certain points, i.e.:
As a parent, you might be familiar with the popular (and effective) concept of ‘paired reading’ – but have you ever heard of ‘paired tables’? Similar to paired reading (during which a child and parent read together until the child feels comfortable enough to carry on alone; then, if the child makes a mistake, the parent joins back in again, with the child repeating any words they find difficult after hearing their parent’s correct pronunciation of such), paired tables entails repeating the tables out loud together. It’s a simple yet powerful learning aide, allowing children to gain confidence whilst enhancing fluency.
As we’ve mentioned, times tables aren’t just an academic exercise; they’re an important part of everyday life. It’s no surprise, then, that there are some fun games to try which make use of commonplace items like playing cards and coins. Here are a few of our favourites!
Counting coins. Assemble a collection of coins – at least twelve 1ps, 5ps, and 10ps, and twice as many 2ps – and use these to create ‘tables’ (with a stack of coins representing each number). You can either pre-assemble these and ask your child to recite their times tables – then, if they make a mistake, they can go to the appropriate ‘stack’ and count it up to find the answer – or you can build the stacks of coins together.
Card battles. The simplest way to use playing cards is to create a set up to 12 (take out the aces and Kings, and count the Jack as 11 and the Queen as 12), and then deal your child two cards at a time and ask them to multiply them. You can also have a battle, where (in teams of two), you each draw a card from the deck and flip them over, racing to see who can multiply them fastest. For example, you draw a Queen and your child draws a 2 – whoever shouts ’24!’ first wins that round, and they get to add both cards to their pile. Whoever has the most cards in their ‘pile’ at the end wins! This fun game will help with how to learn times tables.
Memory games. Everyone is familiar with the old ‘I went to grandmother’s house and I brought…’ – but what about playing a version of this which will also help with times tables? To play, sit in a circle, and announce which times table you’d like to practise. If it was the two times table, and the first player decided they’d bring apples, they would state: ‘I went to grandmother’s house and I brought two apples.’ The next player, who decided to bring pears, would then have to state: ‘I went to grandmother’s house and I brought two apples and four pears.’ This is a fun way to get used to recognising patterns, and speed up/improve recall of numerical sequences (as well as improving memory skills more generally).
Create a times table sheet
Take a blank sheet of paper and draw 12 vertical columns against 12 horizonal columns. Number the vertical column with an X at the top (as you need to start from 2), and then 2, 3, 4 and so on until you reach 12. Number the horizonal row (after X) with 2, 3, 4 and so on. Together with your child, fill this in by multiplying each horizontal number by the corresponding vertical number, until you have 12 complete times tables. You can decorate this any way you wish in order to make it more fun and eye-catching!
Next, take your completed sheet and hand it somewhere prominent: on the fridge, perhaps. At regular intervals (like before each evening meal), sit down together and quickly run through a certain set of tables. Practise really does make perfect, so it’s well worth making this part of your daily routine!
Sing (or say) it loud!
Once upon a time, singing or chanting times tables was commonplace in classrooms: teachers often had their pupils do this every morning, before or after taking the register. And, undoubtedly, this practice can be really helpful for particular learners. Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on this being a classroom activity to try – and there’s lots of inspiration online and on YouTube to help you get started! You can find times table raps, remixes of popular songs with multiplication-inspired lyrics, quizzes, and more. Setting the words to music (and incorporating dance moves) is a great way to embed the information in your child’s memory.
Use your fingers
This is a great trick that is not only useful for tactile learners, but also is a nifty shortcut for anyone who has problems remembering their nine times tables. Ask your child to spread their fingers in front of them so they can see all ten digits clearly. Tell them that you’ll be going left to right when you play this game. Then start with 1 x 9 – and put the ‘first’ finger down to represent the ‘1’ (if moving from left to right, this is your little finger on the left hand). You’re left with 9 fingers, so that’s the answer! For 2 x 9, you now put down your next finger – the left ring finger. This time, you’ve got 1 finger up (the little left finger) followed by a gap, then eight remaining fingers – so the answer is 1 and 8: 18! This works all the way up to 9 x 9.
As you go along, be sure to explain clearly why the answers are correct, so that your child isn’t just getting lost in the game, but they’re also understanding the mathematical reasoning at play (this will help the knowledge stick in their mind).
Times tables are an important part of schooling, and a vital part of the prep school entrance process – so it’s crucial to hone your child’s grasp of times tables. This will ensure that, when faced with the pressures of a 7+ exam or a requirement to perform mental maths at interview, your child feels confident and capable. If you’d like further advice on preparing for entrance exams, or any aspect of your child’s education, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: our expert, friendly tutors are here to help.
Find out how Mentor can help you support you and your child as you approach the 7+. Get in touch today.