Math Anxiety

MASTERING the Times Tables

Math Anxiety: How is it combatted?

Learning multiplication facts truly is an essential part of your child’s elementary education. Believe me, I never thought I’d be the teacher to say that. But, I say it for many reasons. One of the big ones is that I’m not a fan of turning our children into data.

If you’re an educator who has taught over the last decade, you most likely understand what I mean. Working hand in hand with the evolution of computerized assessment comes the increasing emphasis on data collection. In public schools, funding is now directly connected to student data. Therefore, assessment strategies and data are discussed among adults ad nauseam.

Unless you are the adult facilitating the assessments, you might not be fully aware of the flip side of that equation. Students simply shouldn’t be reduced to data. The most important skills (aka the ‘soft skills’ such as leadership skills, problem-solving, teamwork, etc.) simply can’t be quantified. Most importantly, children are incredibly smart! They understand and feel the pressure connected to these assessments. They feel the pressure to do well, to score better and better. It affects their confidence in a very negative way.

And when it comes to math assessments, I’ve never seen kids feel worse about themselves. Generally speaking, I’ve been able to divide students into two math categories: ‘calculator brains’ and ‘non calculator brains.’

Calculator brains tend to understand math concepts easily. Their minds think in terms of numbers. But most people don’t possess a so called ‘calculator brain.’ So when facing a computerized math assessment, these students often feel something called ‘math anxiety.’

Math Anxiety Blog Grumble Services Blog elementary Montessori materials and learning resources

Why Your Child Needs to Master Times Tables

I try to reassure the ‘non-calculator brains.’ I tell them, “not everyone is going to grow up to be a mathematician.” Or, “most math we use in life isn’t timed on a computer.” However, most assessments ARE timed. Timed tests put extra pressure on those with slower processing speeds. A slower processing speed doesn’t make a student bad at math. It just means their brain isn’t functioning as fast as a calculator. When removing the time component from a test, most of these students are able to work out these math problems, no problem.

Unfortunately, current educational standards in our country put a very heavy emphasis on standardized testing skills, rote memorization and quickly recalling math facts. This reality does not appear to be going away any time soon. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that learning multiplication facts can be quite helpful.

Students who have mastered (not just memorized, but understand) their multiplication facts gain a solid foundation helping them throughout middle school, high school and beyond. And, learning multiplication is an activity easily practiced at home.

Just like learning to walk before you can run, learning multiplication and mastering the times tables are building blocks for other areas of math – higher learning such as division, long multiplication, fractions and algebra.

Students who haven’t mastered their tables will often fall behind in math (and other subjects using math). These are the students most likely to develop math anxiety.

How Can We Help the ‘Non Calculator Brains?’

It seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? In a day and age when information is literally at our finger tips, we should put such importance on memorization and recalling facts. However, over time I discovered there is a time and a place for memorization.

Although the Montessori Method discourages rote memorization, as one of my previous Montessori students once pointed out, “Nurses and doctors have to memorize things like different types of medication. From time to time, there is some value to simply memorizing lists.”

If your child isn’t the kind of child that naturally takes to multiplication facts then they could benefit from a quicker recall of the facts. Knowing your multiplication facts is helpful not only in academics; we frequently use multiplication in our daily lives too. We might need it when doubling a recipe, determining a discount at a store or figuring out our expected arrival time when traveling.

Math Anxiety Blog Grumble Services Blog elementary Montessori materials and learning resources

Having had the misfortune of watching some students struggle with their facts in the upper elementary grades, I have developed a couple different learning resource strategies targeted to help make this process a little less painful.

I’ve seen success with these resources in the classroom. If you’d like to try out a few, they are available to you for free here:

Multiplication & Mystery Number SET I: 6s – Elementary Math help pages

Inverse Operations & Fact Families: 5s – Elementary Math help pages

In some cases, an inability to memorize math facts may suggest learning difficulties. Talk to your child’s teacher if there are concerns in this area.

Why Can’t Students Just Use Calculators?

Math calculations are subconscious elements in work, play and daily chores. I refer to this as ‘mental math.’ Calculators are great tools for figuring out complex calculations. However, using a calculator takes much longer for simple facts and can result in keying errors. Students who rely on calculators are also weak in estimating skills and are unaware of wrong answers occurring from keying mistakes. Furthermore, calculators are not allowed in many tests and admission exams.

This begs the question: What’s more important – understanding or memorization – & how can I help with both? It’s not one or the other, it’s both. Early on, a student should have been given the opportunity to explore and understand what multiplication is – grouping of sets, repeated addition. Put simply, a faster way of adding.

Later on, a child who has mastered their facts is at a clear advantage and will most likely feel less math anxiety during timed tests.

There eventually comes the time when students should recognize this advantage and practice recalling answers on demand. You can demonstrate the speed of this by having them quiz you and by practicing the math facts together.

Math Anxiety Blog Grumble Services Blog elementary Montessori materials and learning resources

The boring task of memorization can be made more fun through music, games and activities reinforcing repetition. Working with your child to complete this goal can be a bonding time as you play games and sing songs.

Additionally, you will also have the opportunity to help them learn the important life skills of rapid recall and goal setting!

Five Ways You Can Help Students Master Multiplication Facts at Home:
  • Find out what facts they already know. Spend the least amount of times on these.
  • Focus primarily on the facts they need to learn; kids tend to struggle with 6s, 7s, 8s & 9s.
  • Be interested in math yourself. You are your child’s greatest role model!
  • Provide encouragement along the way; you could even use a chart to monitor progress.
  • Spend quality time practicing together and remember to acknowledge their successes!

Do you have thoughts or ideas about Math Anxiety? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas and experiences at

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Read more:

Mastering Multiplication Times Tables – Why is it so important? – Learning Guide