How can I help my daughter learn the multiplication tables? She is beginning fourth grade but still has to add to find the answer.

There are two reasons most children have difficulty with math. Either they lack understanding of the concept in a real or concrete way, or they have developed a block that causes them to panic and not be able to think clearly. Fortunately, both can be addressed by using manipulatives. Teachers use small objects called manipulatives to introduce new math concepts. In the classroom, manipulatives may be sets of brightly colored stacking blocks, miniature plastic people or a collection of tiny animals. You have manipulatives at home as well. A set of building blocks, cars or game tokens from other toys will work. Or raid your kitchen. Some of the best math lessons use crackers, a bag of pretzels or dried cereal. (And you can both have a snack while you work!)

Here is an example of how to structure a multiplication lesson using manipulatives:

1. Start with a simple problem, like 2 x 2. Give your child two crackers (or the manipulative you choose) and yourself two crackers.
2. Say to her, “If you wanted to know how many crackers we have altogether, what would you do?” She may count them. Accept her answer.
3. Explain that she can also use a quicker way by remembering that two people (point to you and her) and two crackers (point to the crackers) equals four.
4. On paper, write it as a multiplication problem: 2 x 2 = 4
5. Stay with the twos and change the problem. For example, say: “What if we both had three crackers?” Follow the same procedure, using the manipulatives, then write the problem.
6. Review what you worked on before you end the session. Give her some problems and allow her to use the manipulatives to solve them if she needs to.

Work on just one set, for example the twos, during a 15- to 20-minute session. Then stop and let her do what she wants to do. Keep the sessions fun.

If your daughter is having difficulty with multiplication because she doesn’t have a clear idea of how it works, the manipulatives will help her “see” the concept. If she has gotten the idea that she can’t do multiplication, your supportive sessions will help her find a renewed feeling of confidence.

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