Teaching Mental Math to All Elementary Students

Posted by Erica Warren on

Many people think that mental math is too difficult for elementary learners, but, in fact, youngsters have wonderful imaginations and capacities to visualize that can be utilized while doing mathematical calculations. In addition, it teaches them how to use their brains in an efficient, mindful and active manner. What's more it develops working memory, executive functioning skills and attention abilities that can serve them for the rest of their lives.

teaching students mental math

How Can Mental Math Utilize and Develop Working Memory, Executive Functioning and Attention?

Working memory is the key mental process that enables one to hold, manipulate, organize and process both new and stored visual and auditory information. When employing working memory, students also develop their executive functioning skills as well as their attention so that they can retrieve, integrate, and process the problem at hand.

Teaching Children the Power of Visualization Makes Mental Math Fun and Memorable

Another important component of an efficient and robust working memory is the capacity to visualize what one is learning. Creating mental imagery that can be adjusted like an internal movie can make learning both fun and memorable. If you are interested in helping students to develop this capacity, you can play activities and games that will help young learners to develop this skill. To learn about why and how you can teach this, CLICK HERE.

fun math resources

What Types of Mental Math Can You Teach Children?

You can begin by teaching very simple mental math problems by encouraging your students to visualize objects that they can then count in their head. I also love to use mental math to teach simple addition and subtraction. Instead of rote memorization, I have a different approach. Here are a few examples.
  1. Students can learn to add and subtract simple addition problems by visualizing dice. I have them do art activities and play games with dice until they feel comfortable that they can picture them in their heads. Then when they have to add numbers that integrate 1-6, they can visualize a die and count up for addition and countdown for subtraction.
  2. I teach funny memory strategies that students can visualize for learning how to add identical digits like 2+2, 3+3, 4+4 and so forth. For example, with the problem 9+9, I tell them that the two nines are in love, and they get married. When this happens they become one (1), and two heads are better than one (8).
  3. Once they can add the identical digits, the mental manipulation comes in. If they know that 6+6=12, then they can compute 6+7. All they have to do is 6+6=12 and 12+1=13.
  4. I am also a strong believer in integrating color, games and multisensory methods. To learn more about my Mathematic Math Manual idea CLICK HERE.
You would think that mental math is only for bright or gifted children, but I have found that it works brilliantly with children with learning disabilities and even those with low IQ scores. In fact, it works quickly, and I find that my students have great fun with it. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Do you, too, use mental math when instructing elementary students?


Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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