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    What is Mental Math? Foundational Strategies to Help Kids Get Better at Math

    Mental math is a tool through which kids can quickly arrive at the right solution for a range of problems involving advanced calculations. Kids can use the right techniques to expedite calculation, while also developing an appreciation for the beauty of mathematics. You can introduce students to a whole new world of numbers and functions that likely didn’t exist before. 

    What Is Mental Math?

    Teacher standing in front of blackboard with math equations

    The utilization of equation manipulation, quick functions, and calculation tricks to arrive at the right answer for a solvable query is mental math. With mental math practice, kids can perform complex calculations within a few seconds while requiring minimal assistance. With the right teaching mechanisms, kids can learn strategies that they can apply in their everyday lives as well. 

    Why Are Mental Calculations Important for Kids?

    Young boy writing a math equation on a whiteboard

    Learning the right strategies to compute math problems mentally can help develop a sense of curiosity about the subject. Your students can learn to appreciate math problems from different lenses without feeling overwhelmed by them. New mathematical concepts can be introduced to them, without them experiencing anxiousness, which many students face during their early years.

    Math can also sharpen a child’s mind to think analytically, which is essential for long-term cognitive development. You can set your child up for a lifetime of learning if you train them the right way about good mental calculation concepts. You can also help them apply math concepts in real life, as they calculate the approximate speed at which a bicycle is moving, the distribution of heights in a classroom, and other cool mental math examples.

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    Kids also end up loving math as a creative subject rather than a life skill that is purely about numbers. You can empower them to solve many problems by using math, thereby introducing a fondness for the subject. They can raise their hands quicker in class to provide answers to questions, and they can come up with new ways to solve age-old equations using the best strategies.

    Uncovering the Best Methods and Strategies

    Young boy writing math equations on a blackboard with chalk

    You can help kids build a strong foundation of mental math skills that can help them calculate solutions at a much faster pace. It isn’t necessarily about mentally computing the right answer. In many cases, it is about using the right techniques to reframe problems for lower cognitive load.

    Let us explore the best mental calculation techniques that should be taught to all kids!

    1. Multiplication with Numbers that Are Multiples of 10

    To multiply 35 with 500, we would ideally need a calculator, or we can follow this cool multiplication strategy.

    By turning 500 into 5 X 100, we can first multiply 35 X 5 to get 175, and then multiply it by 100 to get 17,500. By breaking up multiples of 10, we can easily calculate any multiplication equation

    Related Reading: Ways to Multiply Numbers Just Over 100 in 3 Seconds

    2. Subtraction with Double and Triple-digit Numbers

    Your kids can improve their subtraction skills by thinking about larger numbers differently. If we look at the question of 567 – 52, we would be stumbling to hunt for a calculator.

    However, if we think about 52 as 50 and 2, we can first remove 50 from 567, which is 517, and then remove another 2, to get 515. With this technique, your students can improve their subtraction skills and mentally find the answers to complex equations.

    Another example of this would be 892 – 124. We can remove 100 from 892 to get 792. We can then remove 20 from 792 to get 772. Finally, we can remove 4 and get 768.

    When we repeatedly practice this with our kids, they can get an intuitive sense of the math strategy.

    3. Quick Trick to Multiply by 5

    To multiply a number by 5, you can split it in half and then add a zero after it. For example, 48 X 5 will be 24 (which is the half of 48) and a zero after that. This gives you 240.

    You can also do this with odd numbers by dividing the number with 2 and shifting the decimal point since the half of an odd number will always end in .5. For example, 67 X 5 can be calculated by using the half of 67, which is 33.5, and shifting the decimal point to the right, you get 335.

    You can also explain the calculation as temporarily dividing both sides of the equation by 10. This means that 5/10 should be half. By explaining the logic behind the mental math strategy, you can help kids visualize the trick better. 

    4. Addition Through Rounding Up or Down

    You can encourage your kids to learn this easy trick of remembering to round up or down and using their left and right hands. An example of this would be as follows.

    What is 342 + 628?

    Your students can take 2 away from 342 to give them 340. Keeping 2 fingers pointing up on their left hand will help them keep the number in mind. Next, they can add 2 to 628 to give them 630. This means that on the first number, they rounded down to the nearest 0 digit, and on the second number, they rounded up.

    The temporary calculation becomes 340 + 630. If they can quickly add 34 and 63, they would get 97. The final answer is 970.

    Now what do we do about the 2 fingers on our left hand and 2 on our right. Well, if we rounded down -2 and we rounded up +2 then we need to add them together as well. This gives us 0. Therefore, the final answer remains 970.

    Another example of this would be:

    What is 246 + 653?

    We can break the numbers down into 250 – 4 + 650 + 3.

    This gives us 250 + 650, which is 900 and –4 + 3, which is – 1.

    So, the final answer should be 900 – 1 = 899.

    If your kids can keep their fingers up for addition, and down for subtraction, then they can keep a better track of the extra numbers mentally.

    5. Multiplication by Digit with a Single Number

    When multiplying larger numbers with a single digit number, the calculation can be performed quite quickly. As multiplication is simply repeatedly adding a number, we can break down an equation quite easily.

    For example, what is 148 X 7?

    We can break the equation down to 100 X 7 + 40 X 7 + 8 X 7.

    This gives us 700 + 280 + 56. The final answer is 1036.

    We can further use our other math trick and make 56 into 60 – 4 and 280 into 300 – 20.

    This gives us 700 + 60 + 300 – 20 – 4.

    60 – 24 is 36, which can be added to 700 + 300, which is 1000. This gives us 1036 in less than a mental minute.

    Related Reading: How to Multiply & Divide Fractions: Steps with Visual Models

    Four Important Ways to Help Kids Get Better at Mental Calculations

    Young kid drawing geometrical shapes in a notebook with a pencil

    There are several strategies that you can explore to figure out how to do mental math.

    1. Reducing the Use of Calculators

    Through the active reduction of mobile and physical calculators, you can strengthen your child’s innate ability to calculate simple to advanced problems. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, percentages, and other core calculations can be done on their fingertips or in the mind.

    2. Encouraging Mental Calculation in New Spaces

    When visiting a store or a restaurant, you can ask your child to calculate the tip, the discounted price, the service charge, and other quick math applications. In the classroom, you can have your kids figure out the ratio of boys to girls in the playground to keep the wheels in their brains spinning.

    3. Working on Puzzles and Math Games

    You can provide access to math games and puzzles to kids and empower them to improve their abilities in a self-driven way. They can have fun while pursuing quick math in an engaging environment.

    Related Reading: List of Useful Mathematical Symbols

    4. Working on Foundations

    By consistently exploring and working on foundation mental math strategies, your kids can keep their math skills sharpened. The trick of numbers near multiples of 100, double plus 1s, addition through disintegration, etc., can be introduced gradually to keep them excited about learning.

    Four Tips for Optimal Practicing of Mental Calculation

    Young boy wearing glasses standing in front of blackboard

    One of the most important aspects of knowing mental calculation tricks is to practice them every day. This can be accomplished through online games, worksheets, one-on-one sessions, and live challenges.

    1. Online Math Games

    Online math games can help kids understand mathematics intuitively. They can get a better sense of mathematics concepts when they enjoy the journey of learning about numbers and calculations. SplashLearn offers a wide range of online games that your children can play to improve their inherent abilities of calculating larger numbers.

    2. Daily Worksheets

    Through daily worksheets, you can keep your kids engaged, both in the classroom and at home, while tracking their progress. Worksheets are also multidimensional and keep them engaged for longer periods. You can also print out multiple types of mental math worksheets and have them practice mental calculation on a range of questions.

    3. Application in Regular Math Homework

    A key reason why many students retain formulae mentally is because of the wide range of applications they provide. Your kids will be able to remember mental arithmetic strategies if they use them in their daily homework. By encouraging kids to solve homework problems, online lessons, and class quizzes using their mental calculation skills, they will be able to sharpen their skills further.

    4. Constantly Updating Strategies

    Another important step along the way of mastering mental calculation is to constantly add new strategies to their existing body of knowledge. When thinking about the secret of mental math, it is important to continue learning new ways of approaching traditional problems. This will acquire their interest long-term and help them build upon their abilities of solving complex math equations.

    How Can I Implement Mental Math in My Classroom?

    Teacher pointing to geometric figures on a blackboard in a classroom full of students

    Implementing mental calculation strategies in the classroom can be done by making it a part of your daily lesson plan. By encouraging students to think about problems through a mental matrix of strategies, you can empower them to become more confident in their abilities. You can also introduce special reminders when teaching new topics or when giving quizzes to think about the calculation mentally.

    Another great way to implement mental calculation in class is to use teaching aids for younger students. You can use toys, blocks, number sheets, and other interesting ways to keep the lesson stress-free and engaging. You can use songs for kids that can teach strategies through joyful singing. Playing online math games and quizzes can also keep the entire class involved in finding the right answer to multiple questions.

    Related Reading: Brilliant Math Quotes to Share with Students to Inspire Them

    How Can I Help My Child with Math at Home?

    Young child playing with number toys

    It is important to strengthen a few key areas of your child’s understanding of mathematics for them to become adept at mental calculations. At home, they can practice these areas synchronously and improve their ability to get answers quickly.

    1. Visualizing the number line and improving recognition of odd and even numbers.

    2. Practicing daily and aligning with class goals for mental calculation objectives.

    3. Using mental calculation regularly for solving a wide range of problems.

    4. Knowing when to round up and round down instinctively.

    5. Improving skip counting and quick counting skills mentally.

    When your child has mastered these key areas, they can focus on building up their knowledge base and continue practicing new models of mental calculations.

    Handy Resources to Aid Your Teaching

    Young boy sitting on rug looking at a tablet

    You can use the following resources to aid your teaching of mental calculation strategies to kids. You can start with foundational aids and transition to more complex methods based on the grade of the children.

    Mental Calculation Games

    Online mental calculation games can help your kids learn the strategies required to improve their skills in a gamified environment. This improves their recall abilities and the application of various mental calculation skills in a self-learning driven way.

    Mental Calculation Worksheets

    Worksheets are a great way to strengthen core calculation skills as you provide a set of challenging questions based on the grade of your child. You can focus on various sheets that can challenge your child’s abilities in different ways.

    Memory Recall Flashcards

    You can make flashcards that hold different types of mental calculation tricks, and examples of their applications. Through flashcards, kids can test their recall abilities and you can help support their quest for mathematical curiosity by introducing new flashcards each week.

    Math Play Activities

    You can play multiple types of board games and math activities with your kids in an interactive and fun-filled way. “101 and out” is a great activity that asks kids to count to 101 by rolling a die. You can also present a random number to them, such as 55, and ask them how many ways they can arrive at that number using 4 or less numbers. 

    We have covered a wide range of strategies, applications, and teaching methodologies when it comes to mental calculation. Whether you’re a parent or an educator, you need to teach the foundational skills kids need to become more confident of their math skills. Through these mental tricks, your children can enjoy math again while becoming better at it instinctively.

    Related Reading: Best Tips for Creating a Healthy Student-Centered Learning Environment

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Can mental calculations tips improve grades of students who struggle with the subject?

    Mental calculation may provide a new way of learning the subject but may be more challenging for students who struggle with math.

    What types of games can teach kids how to get better at mental math?

    Online games, board games, math activities, etc., can help improve math skills and make students more adept at grasping the fundamentals of mental math.

    Will these mental tricks positively impact performance at school?

    For tests that are time-driven and challenging, mental calculations can help students arrive at the answer faster and increase accuracy.

    Will mental calculation be tough for younger kids?

    By starting with foundation-building skills, such as multiplying by 5, rounding up, and number lines, you can make it easier for younger kids.

    Andrew Scholl
    Andrew Scholl is an educational expert with over 15 years of teaching experience in elementary and middle school classrooms. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two daughters.

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