Like most people in America I like to visit this magical land they call Target ALOT. This summer especially has been filled with hours spent in Target with my husband “remembering” things we “need” for our new apartment. This month especially, I feel an extra jolt of excitement as I enter Target. It is back to school season and I know that I will get to roam all of the pretty school and learning supplies at the back of the store. This season though, my jolt of excitement has been crushed as I walk in those magical sliding glass doors and immediately see a WALL of flash cards in the entrance to the dollar section…my favorite section! Why is this crushing my Target spirit? Because, in most cases there are MUCH better things you can be doing with your child to enhance and increase their learning than drilling them with flashcards…and they take just about as much effort.
When I was in elementary school there was a lot of emphasis on rote memorization. I think I still have nightmares about the speed addition and multiplication tests that I was given. Thankfully now the standards focus more on understanding and critical thinking when it comes to all subjects, especially math. When I was taking those speed math tests, I didn’t really understand what the numbers meant or why 5×6 is 30. I just knew that 30 was the answer on the flash card I was given. Luckily this is not how things are done in most schools now!
You can help your student a lot by helping them with activities and games that concentrate on their understanding rather than their memorization. Below I have listed four things you can try with your student in place of math flash cards.
1. Card Games
There are lots of card game ideas out there on the internet that will help students practice math concepts. The greatest thing is that playing cards are so cheap and most people have them at home already. Playing cards are not limited to one activity like flash cards are, which is even more fun! You may even know some card games already that will help your child with math concepts.
The game Pyramid is super simple and super fun for younger grades and parents to practice making sets of ten together. I found it on Math Geek Mama which has some great math resources for teachers and parents!
2. Break out the white board!
Kids are some of the most creative people I know. If you have a white board, chalk board or other erasable surface in your home it is a great way for your student to be creative while practicing skills! Instead of spending time with flash cards, spend the same amount of time giving each other problems to solve. Most students love to show off their skills while being able to draw and erase. Of course there is always free draw for a few minutes at the beginning and end in my tutoring sessions..because who doesn’t compulsively want to draw every time they see a white board? Or is that just me?
Instead of asking “what is six plus seven?” try asking “can you show me six plus seven?”. You might be surprised what your student has to show you! If you want to, you can move on from the answer and ask follow up questions such as “could you find two more numbers that combine to make that same answer?” or “what is another way you could solve that?”. Have fun and let your student ask some of the questions too!
3. Dice Games
This goes along the same lines as the card games. Dice are a fun way to practice math facts up to six! If you are working on addition you can get out two or more dice per person and have a competition to see which person rolls the highest number. You can practice multiplication by rolling two or more numbers and then multiplying them. The possibilities are endless, so play around with it! There are also lots of fun dice game sheets on teachers pay teachers if you search for them.
My personal favorite dice game is “walk the plank” you will have to acquire a paint stick to play it, but you definitely wont be disappointed! The Primarily Speaking blog explains how to set up and play the game really well. Instead of using cubes like are shown below, you could always use coins, soda tabs, milk caps or anything else you have lying around.
4. Break out the electronics!
Let’s face it, we are smack in the middle of the digital age. Sometimes it scares me how much our phones, tablets and computers can do…but they are SO GOOD for learning! Especially since we all seem to be getting busier and we take our devices everywhere! Spend an evening on your device looking at the app store and searching the skill you want to review with your child, chances are you will find something fun. I could do a whole blog post just about fun learning apps! There are tons of blog posts already floating around out there about learning apps that you can explore.
One of my favorite ipad games is Sushi Monster. You can use it for multiplication or addition. A monster sits in front of a sushi conveyor belt with a number around his neck, the point of the game is to pick numbers off the table in front of him that add or multiply to that number. The game is bright colored and super fun! Even though the game is focused on fact fluency and remembering facts, it still promotes deeper thinking because there are multiple ways to get the answer.
So there you have it! Obviously there is a time and a place for flash cards or other rote memorization techniques, and every child learns differently. I am not claiming that these activities are an end to flash cards..I’m just saying they are fun, engaging and more thought provoking ways to approach math practice. No matter what you are doing make sure your student is understanding the math that they are doing and that they are thinking deeply about it.
Try something new out this week in place of flash cards and comment with your experience. What activities do you like to do with your student to practice math or another subject?