photo of a black calculator on a math book with the caption, how to help children who struggle with math facts, learn with emily dot com

How to Help Children who Struggle with Math Facts

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Math facts are basic math problems used in more complex math processes. In the early grades, the concepts of addition and subtraction are taught first. Once addition and subtraction have been mastered, multiplication and division are introduced. Students are also taught to memorize the math facts. Memorizing facts will allow a child to quickly obtain an accurate answer. Students who are able to recall math facts fluently (remembering the facts with both accuracy and speed) will be able to compute more complex math calculations with ease.

What if a child is not becoming fluent with math facts?

Some children struggle to learn math facts. I was one of those children. Spending time with flashcards, songs, and other tools used to teach the facts did nothing for me. I figured out the answer to addition and subtraction problems with my fingers. Multiplication was much more cumbersome. I could skip count my way to answering some multiplication problems, but others I would have to count out by adding on. For example, I did memorize 6 x 6 = 36, but to find 6 x 7, I would have to count on six more from 36. Once I entered high school where calculators were allowed, my math progress went much more smoothly. I even got an A in calculus during my freshman year of college.

Give a child a way to calculate math answers accurately

The first step is to give a child a way to quickly calculate an accurate answer. Failing to do so, will limit their math progress. Giving the child tools will allow him to continue to learn new math concepts. Calculating answers will take longer, but it is better to have the tools to figure out the right answer than to fail math.

I was able to progress through math without knowing my math facts because I had figured out a way to get accurate answers. Using my fingers worked for me, but there are better ways.

Math Adaptations

Children can also be given access to their math curriculum without knowing math facts through math adaptations. Small objects can be used to calculate answers to problems. An abacus can be used for the same purpose. These tools work well while teaching new concepts; however, you will eventually need to move on to something that is more readily available. Manipulatives are generally not allowed in testing situations.


Calculators saved my math progress in high school by giving me access to the curriculum. I no longer had to spend time calculating basic facts on my fingers.

Touch Math

When I started teaching special education, I was introduced to Touch Math. I used Touch Math to teach my students basic computation skills and it is what I now use myself. For each number, there are a set of touch points. Imath problems written on notebook paper. Some of the numbers have dots on them.nitially, the touch points are on the numbers. For addition and subtraction, the touch points can be drawn on the smaller number. When calculating an answer, the touch points are counted while touched. With addition, the larger number is said, and then the number with touch points is counted on. For example, 4 + 2 is 4, 5, 6. With subtraction, the top number is said, and then the student counts backwards while touching the touch points. For example, 7 – 4 is 7, 6, 5, 4, 3.

With multiplication, touch points are used in a similar way. First the student is taught to skip count. Sarah Jordon has a CD with unique and catchy tunes to practice this skill. I used these with my son and they worked well for him. We practiced one table at a time until he could skip count accurately. When skip counting has been mastered, the touch points can be used in multiplication problems. For example, 6×3 would have touch points on the 3 and be counted, 6, 12, 18.

With division, tick marks are used to forward skip count and than tallied later. See the Touch Math website (not an affiliate link) for more information.

Touch point numbers can be viewed by conducting an image search or through the Touch Math website. They also have a free math cube set you can download that includes touch points. I have purchased and used some of their worksheet sets. I do recommend these over their full curriculum programs. Also, viewing the worksheet sets will give you a good idea of how to implement touch points with any curriculum.

Once a student has learned to use the touch points fluently, they can be faded out. The first step in fading out touch points is to teach the student to count them on a number without the marks. Continue practicing daily until the student has memorized the touch points on the unmarked number. Once each number is mastered, stop putting the touch points on their work for that number. Continue the process until the student can accurately calculate answers without the touch points drawn on their work.

Is there hope for fact fluency?

Yes! There is a lot of curriculum that claims to teach children math facts. Some students will learn well with flash cards and regular practice. For those who do not, there is still hope for mastery. First, provide a child a way to access the math curriculum without having math facts memorized as described above. Next, consider trying programs that teach math facts. Click here for a review of math fact curriculums.

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