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My Child Needs Help with Mental Math

Allison Gardenswartz
Allison Gardenswartz

By Allison Gardenswartz, Consulting Educator


My daughter needs help with math. She comprehends math concepts. But she has a hard time doing mental math and still counts on her fingers. Her grades are fine in math, but I am concerned that as math gets more difficult she will struggle.


There are many ways you can help your child improve her mental math.

A great tool to improve her math proficiency and speed is the computer. There are lots of computer games that require a math fact to be solved within a given time. You can usually increase the speed on these games as your daughter's proficiency improves. Children enjoy learning this way, and it is very effective.

Another fun tool is musical math CDs. The Rappin' Mathematician is one. There are several others that help students to memorize facts by learning a song. This method proves to be very effective.

Finally, good, old-fashioned drill and practice works well to improve speed and proficiency of math facts. Flash cards, oral games like Bizz Buzz and quick-timed "magic minutes" are all beneficial in improving basic facts.

The key to basic fact progress is consistent practice for short periods of time (five to seven minutes) frequently. So, if your daughter can practice her math facts three times per day for five minutes each time, it will be more effective than one 15- or 20- minute spurt. Use any of the methods mentioned above for this short practice. Progress in proficiency typically comes pretty quickly and is often self-motivating. As she starts to improve, she will feel the satisfaction of success and be motivated to continue to practice and thus continue to improve.

Allison Gardenswartz is the founder of a San Diego tutoring center specializing in gifted and remedial learning and test preparation studies. An educator for over 15 years, Allison is an expert in identifying and enhancing the learning abilities of school-age children. Allison now fully devotes her time to parent education, consulting and college counseling. Allison has a teaching credential and has taught for several years in various public school systems. She has three children: Jacob, 11, Sofia, 7, and newly adopted Ryan, who is 3.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from readers

"Hi, My daughter is studying in 8th Standard. She practices well at home, however during her exams she confuses and does silly mistakes in Maths. How can i increase her confidence and make her feel that she can do wonderful in her maths exams. "
"Hello, I had the same question, but your answer doesn't help at all, because the mental math that I am having to learn and teach my son, looks like a new type of curriculum that they are pushing in my son's school. Mental math as I understand it is a process specifically using 'breaking apart' and 'compensation' to solve otherwise more difficult math problems. It is a subjective way of choosing ways via rounding and number manipulation to get to an answer more quickly. Sure knowing your math facts always helps, but how can I teach my son mental math when I'm an engineer and don't get how 1,933-348 is properly simplified to make it easy to do in your head. This is tearing up my sons confidence and making him HATE all math. The kicker is the curriculum is teaching this before they are making sure they are proficient at column math. Can you elaborate on Mental Math as the curriculum?"
"My grandson has problems concentrating and has a hard time retaining information in solving his math problems..i.e...he'll have 6 problems to solve and after getting the first 3 right, he can't figure out the last 3...even though it requires the same action as the first this stage he has lost interest or concentration and just doodle on his paper...."