How to teach mental maths to grade’s 1- 3

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How to teach mental maths to grade’s 1- 3 Evergreen Tutoring Services

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://evergreentutoringservices.com/2021/04/09/mental-maths/

How to teach mental maths to grade’s 1- 3

A group of happy Primary School students!

Electronic devices have transformed the way math is taught in schools. Unfortunately, children’s dependence on technology can cause their prior knowledge of mental maths skills to slip away.
However, it is still possible to teach students maths techniques that will help them mentally add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Parents and guardians, in particular, play an important role in highlighting the strategies that their children develop at school, when at home.

Where to start?

It is important to first recognise that number sense forms a crucial part of a child’s ability to understand numbers and number relationships. When topics such as ordering numbers, counting on and comparing numbers are learnt, a child’s counting skills come into play.

Keynote: By grade 2, it is not expected that students will be fluent in concepts such as more and less or counting backwards. This requires a deeper level of thinking that relates to number ideas. 

As a minimum, children are expected to be confident in the following skills by at least grade 3:

  • Immediately recognising a number between 1-10 when they see it (on some dice, for example) without counting –
  • Name the number between 0-10 that comes after or before a given number
  • Beginning understanding of Part- part-whole relationships

Definition: Part-part whole – recognising that there are two parts in a whole, and a number can be broken down into many parts. For Example, showing your child a pattern that includes circles in 2 different colours and asking them, “how many circles do you see?” “how many are green?” “and how many are pink?”
This will help them to realise that while there is a total number of circles, it can again be broken up into smaller numbers.
This skill comes into play with many mathematical concepts, such as understanding the number 10 is a whole number but is still made up of 8+2 or 6+4 and so on.

Tips for how to do this

A visual example of how to teach Whole and parts to students.
How whole numbers are made up of parts. 8+2=10

Creating questions in this type of layout can be extremely beneficial for students as it gives a visual as well as a written demonstration of how these numbers work as wholes and parts.

Playing with dice and practising instant recognition of the numbers without counting is also a great way to build this skill.

Examples of how to use dice to impove instant number recognition.

In your child’s mental maths learning journey, it is useful to check that these skills are in place. Be sure your child has a good foundation here before building on new number/counting topics.

Dilandra- Tutor at Evergreen Tutoring Services

Introducing the topic

Doubles recipe. A rhyme to help students learn to double up to 10

When presenting these topics to your child, ensure that you include anything that might help them see a pattern or trend in a simple way. Getting as many senses involved in your approach to solidifying these concepts is essential. E.G

  • Auditory (silly sayings and rhymes) “4 + 4, there’s a spider on my door.”
  • Patterns or repetitions of numbers
  • Touch (using dice or blocks)
  • Visual (images for adding doubles)
An example of how to use visual questions to teach mental maths

Assessment for mental maths

Assessing your child’s knowledge of doubles can also be a good place to start as this concept forms the foundation for many counting and number topic in your child’s later years of schooling. For example, the doubles plus 1 concept is a suitable example of how the topic of the double can be useful. If your child understands 3 + 3 = 6, they are more likely to know 3 + 4 because it is just one more double than 3.

Moreover, although students up to grade 3 are familiar with numbers up to (and beyond) 20, it shouldn’t be assumed that they are as confident with these as they are with numbers up to 10. These numbers past 20 do play a big part in many simple counting activities, and therefore, it is an important relationship for children to grasp.

The aim for your child should be that when shown a set of 8 with a set of 10, they should recognise, without counting, that the total is 18.

Mental maths games

To make it easier for you, we have compiled some games below that can assist you as well as your child to continue their learning of some of these key mental maths topics at home.

Math Jeopardy

Give your child a piece of paper and then say a number. Give them one minute to find as many ways as they can to make the number using addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

Mental Mystery

Have your child count out five small objects such as pennies, marbles, or candy and have them close their eyes. Then hide some of the five objects, while leaving the rest uncovered.  Ask your child to calculate how many objects they see and how many objects are covered. Practice this activity until your child can quickly solve these simple equations without having to count. Add one more object once your child has mastered a level as an extension. For older children, start with a higher number of objects (e.g., 10-20 objects).

Good luck!


A Primary School teacher here at Evergreen Tutoring Services.

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