Multiplication: Learning your times tables

Most of us will remember the days of practising our times tables over and over again until they came without a  second thought. As much as children often detest learning this skill it is nonetheless a very important mathematical foundation that will underlay so many of the more difficult maths concepts later on. If these simple multiplication equations are not mastered it will slow progress and make maths just that little bit harder.

With his in mind, here are some activities to drill the times tables that make it just a little bit more fun and will be especially helpful to those kinesthetic learners who need the hands-on experience to really lock these facts into their memories. They can be used as workjobs, shoebox tasks, Montessori style tray activities, work stations or simply as part of your every day maths programme.

This is an egg holding tray from my refrigerator with a cheap set of plastic ping-pong balls from the $2 shop. The multiplication problem is written on each ball with the answers in each circle on a piece of card taped to the back. The balls are simply matched up to the correct answer. (Children usually have no problem with 0, 1 or 10 times any number, so if there are not enough spaces I leave these equations out of the set.)

A paper plate has the answers written around the edge with multiplication problems slid into the end of plastic pegs. Children work out the sum and slide the peg on to the correct place.

The 7 times table is written onto wooden pegs with the answers on coloured contact stuck around the edge of a plastic container. Pegs are stored in the container when the activity is complete.

Small slots are cut into the top of each egg carton segment with the answers to the 8 times table written on each. Fat shaped popsticks (paddle-pops) have the sums written on each and are poked into the corresponding hole. The last segment has a larger hole to place al the sticks when the activity is complete.

Popsticks with answers are matched to the 9 times table written on an icecream container lid.

An empty container (lunchbox etc.) plus some pattipans and card circles are all that is needed for this activity. The patti-pans have the answers and the card circles have the 4 times table written on them.

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Workboxes – homeschooling multiple ages

With many children in the family, juggling different levels of homeschooling can at times be a challenge. One of my long-term goals is for each child to become a completely independent learner, to be able to educate themselves in any way necessary to equip them for their future careers and life. Once each child is an independent reader, this becomes much easier and it is therefore the children in the 4 to 6-ish bracket that receive the most one-on-one parent directed teaching as they learn their basic phonics, reading and mathematic skills. As they progress through the next couple of years or so and become proficient readers, they begin to work more and more independently.

Workboxes are one method of encouraging independence and organising several different learners at different stages. They can take different forms; some families have a system of drawers whereby the child starts at the top drawer, completes the set task in it, moves on to the drawer below and so on until their daily responsibilities are completed. This allows them to see their progress and gives even non-readers a very clear indicator of what they are to do next. There is no wandering around collecting or organising supplies as everything necessary for the activity is in the drawer (other than a caddy or pencil-case of stationary items that is collected with the first drawer work.)

This kind of system is great for all children and is particularly helpful for those who like to know what is coming next, those who tend to argue or complain about what they do or do not have to do for the day and those who waste a lot of time finding books and supplies instead of working. Everything is black and white and dictated by the drawers. You are not finished until the last drawer is done. They can even include music practice, computer time, chores or any other kind of task a child is responsible for in a day.

I love the idea of workboxes set out in this way but didn’t want to have to swap out activities on a nightly basis. While the year one child for example does reading and phonics every day, they do not do exactly the same activity so the drawer system would require me swapping out the phonics drawer every night. The same applies for maths which is a daily activity, however the form that it takes changes daily.

Miss 3 1/2 year old’s cupboard – 1 workbox and 1 tray per day.

Miss 6 year old’s shelf – 1 workbox per day.

In the end I took the basic idea of the workbox (that is every piece of equipment necessary and every activity needing to be completed throughout the day is in the box) and tweaked it to fit our family. Our workboxes are simply a plastic crate containing every activity that must be completed throughout the day for each child within the one box (or in some cases a box and a tray for each day.) There is a box for each day of the week, apart from Wednesdays when our eldest son attends a homeschooling co-op and the girls have a more relaxed day of craft and cooking etc.

I set them up at the beginning of the term and only need to change them when content such as reading books need to be updated, rather than on a daily or weekly basis.

For those of you who are interested, here is what’s in the boxes.

Miss 3 1/2:

Monday: counting workjob, starter styles (Pre-number at the moment) and peg board. (She is learning the alphabet letter names and sounds but we do them everyday so they sit separately on the top shelf, rather than in any one box.)

Tuesday: Letterland phonics, counting workjob, puzzle and colouring in.

Thursday: Montessori style tong activity, book, counting workjob, pattern blocks and puzzle cards.

Friday: counting workjob, Montessori style spooning activity, diary writing and puzzles.

Miss 6’s work boxes:

Monday: Reading, 3 letter words spelling book, addition workjob, phonics & spelling starter styles and Montessori sight words picture match.

Tuesday: reading, handwriting, Montessori sight words picture match, phonics digraphs, number starter styles and subtraction workjob.

Thursday: Diary writing, Montessori sight words picture match, number starter styles, reading and geoboard activities.

Friday: Reading, calculations starter styles, Montessori sight words picture match, sight words activity book and base 10 activities.

Master 8 yr old’s school work is not in workboxes. He has his own desk with drawers and keeps his school book sorted into those. He does do some hands on work; however the morning session (which is when we use the workboxes) is when he does his book work. He has a weekly schedule to follow which tells him which subject to do on what day and  he works through this in order; a kind of “workbox on paper.”

He uses a mixture of Saxon Maths and Maths-U-See, Mystery of History, Exploring Creation, copywork, lapbook activities, Color the Classics and English for the Thoughtful Child.

We all have circle time together, with the focus on bible reading, character training, scripture memorization, catechism and prayer. I spend time with Miss 3 1/2 while Master 8 and Miss 6 work independently, then one-on-one with Miss 6 while the others work independently and finally time with Master 8 while both girls finish off their activities and head outside.

This is what is working for us at the moment, although as life changes and new challenges appear (such as the twins dropping their morning nap sometime soon!), everything changes again. But that’s life with little ones!