Nothing has brought me more joy professionally in the past five years than helping children in grades 2-5 conceptually understand the relationships between fact families and factors. When a third grader starts to see that 4+4+4+4+4= 20 is actually multiplication they explode with laughter and “Ah-Ha!” moments.   Recently at the school where I volunteer to teach Play Math a child with whom I worked last year ran up to me “Hey! Do you remember me!” He had no idea what my name was but he did know that he now liked math and he wanted to do more of it.

This sweet child knew that 70% of kids are kinesthetic learners and they learn best by seeing and doing not just by listening. The enthusiasm these kids have running up to a polyspot to work out a math problem or throwing a ball to say fact families is contagious.

In four easy steps we alternate fine and gross motor movement to build conceptual math skills that last a lifetime.

STEP 1: Bounce the large ball back and forth between you and your child or you and the student. You can do this with one-three students and one mentor or adult. Mirror the skip counting with new learners and alternate the counting with older learners. 2-2 4-4 6-6 or 2,4,6,8,10,12.

STEP 2: When the child getʼs stuck and can go no higher we say “Letʼs build math.” We sit down with the base ten blocks and ask the child to choose the rods that correspond to the number they were skip counting. We let the child “count them out.” This is the “slide and glide” procedure.

STEP 3: When the child sees how the numbers add together to “make” bigger numbers we get up again and bounce, throw or pass the ball to skip count.

STEP 4: We show the children that multiplication is simply fast counting as they touch the over and up numbers on the rectangles or squares that make complete factor arrays.

This process of seeing that 4 3′s = 12 and that those 3′s can be divided into 2 3′s that make 6  helps with meaningful math. The children see what numbers make up or “fit into” other numbers.

This morning my sixth grader was dividing decimals. When she asked how many times does 23 go into 138, we used Play Math and the distributive property to think about how many times 20 “fits” into 138.

20 x 6 = 120 and

20 x 7 = 140

So we know that we begin with 20 x 6 and we multiply 23 x 6 to see what the remainder is and we move on from there.  WOW! she said, 23 x 6 = 138 “It’s a clean fit!”  Estimation, how factors fit into bigger numbers and multiplication all lead us to our understanding of division.

Not only do I remember you, young man, I honor and applaud you. All 3rd and 4th graders can master math facts.  They just need to see it and move it not simply hear it. That’s why we Play Math:). Let us bring play math to your family or school, together we can change the trajectory of children’s lives. Simply email me on the contact page.