Math Strategies: Teaching Mental Math (Basic Addition)

child math

When children are learning basic math facts it is important for them to make sense of number combinations. Concepts that may seem like common sense to an adult often need to be explicitly taught to a child, with clear examples demonstrated so they know exactly what strategies to use to complete the problem.

Here is a list of strategies to teach to young children learning math or older children struggling with basic math facts:

1 – Adding Zero:  Teach the child that when you add zero to a number you will be adding nothing, so the answer will always be the larger number. (e.g., 5 + 0 = 5, 0 + 9 =9, 3 + 0 = 3, 0 + 6 = 6, etc.) Let them know that the rule is the same no matter what number they add zero to. Visually show the child on paper or a board so they hear and see the rule.

2 – Adding One: Teach the child that when a problem asks you to add one, the answer will always be one number higher than the larger number. For example if the problem is 6 + 1 = ?, and the child knows that adding one means to go one higher than six, they will be able to figure out the answer is 7. If the child cannot automatically think what number is one higher, have  them count to figure it out (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). Have them work the problem out on a piece of paper or board, so they can visually understand the concept.

3 – Adding  Two – Count up Two: Teach the child that when a problem asks you to add two, the answer will always be two numbers higher than the larger number. If the problem is 6 + 2 = ?, have the child start with the number six and count up two. If they struggle counting up two in their mind, have them use their fingers or use objects to represent the problem. As an example, you can use pennies. Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Have them count out six pennies on one side, circle that group and write the number “6.” Then have the child put two pennies on the other side, touch the two pennies one at a time and say “seven”, “eight.” If this is still too difficult, have the child count all six pennies on one side of the line, and then move over to the other side to say “seven”, “eight.” Practice this example with all different problems that require adding two (e.g., 1 + 2, 2 + 2, 3 + 2, 2 +4, 2 + 6, etc.)

Make sure to teach the child that the rules are the same whether the larger number comes first or the smaller number comes first (e.g., 1 + 0, is the same as 0 + 1, 6 + 2 is the same as 2 + 6, etc. This concept is called the cumulative property.

Once the child understands these concepts, it is easy to make games out of the newly learned material. Frequent practice is important in mastering these skills. You can take turns giving problems to each other and having the other one solve it. You or the child can make your own flash cards on index cards and take turns testing each other. Or you can take turns making math problems using math manipulatives. MathLink Cubes (Set of 100) are a great example of math manipulatives that can be used to visually represent math problems.

Using a number line is also an excellent way to help a child learn the concepts taught above. Have the child put his finger on the number on the line and then count up however many numbers he is supposed to add. So if the problem is 6 +2, have the child put his finger on the 6 and then count up two numbers to 8, moving his finger as he goes. Carson Dellosa Student Number Lines Desk Tape (4421) is a number line that you can easily tape to a desk or table for the student to refer to as needed.

As stated in our previous math article, “How Math Games Can Help” computerized learning has become a common method used in the classroom because it allows the students to see pictures accompanied with verbal math problems or explanations. Many teachers use the IPAD to allow students to play math games in which graphics are part of the learning experience. Allow your child to play computerized math games at home for a fun, visual, and participatory experience.

K5 Stars includes over 300 educational computer games.  It is a highly rated  program by parents and educators. I am not too crazy about  the catch phrase “Don’t let your child fall behind”,  but the games  make  learning fun.

For more product suggestions to help a child with math, visit the E-Learning center and Wise Market of Wise Education and Behavior.

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For more tips on learning and behavior visit the Learning/Behavior Strategies section of Wise Education and Behavior. We share new tips on learning or behavior every week. Check out our articles on behavior, reading, math, writing, and general learning.

Thank you for reading.

One thought on “Math Strategies: Teaching Mental Math (Basic Addition)

  1. Pingback: Math Strategies for Elementary School Students | Wise Education and Behavior

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