How to Reduce Math Anxiety for Kids

Students often feel overwhelmed when they’re introduced to multiplication. First, they have to grasp the concept that multiplication is a quick way of adding up groups of things. Next, they have to memorize the facts so they can make calculations, then they need to learn how to multiply double digits, then division, fractions, ratios, and algebra, which all require having the multiplication facts committed to memory. Learning how to multiply can be challenging for even the most intuitive math learners, but it can create extraordinary anxiety in many students.

One Mother’s Story

One mom shared this story about her daughter’s math anxiety:

“My ten-year-old daughter had anxiety about taking math tests. For four years she has been expected to know her math facts quickly (in a snap). She had tried multiple methods but could not keep the answers in her head. By now we had tried rote memorization, card games, tutoring, YouTube videos, and math intervention at school. She was behind her peers and couldn’t seem to make herself learn these math facts. She has a strong math brain and understands the concepts, but memorizing those facts was killing her.

I was frustrated and remembered my own tears when trying to memorize those math facts. The worst was the public humiliation from not getting a star on my fact chart when all the other kids had stars.”

What Is Math Anxiety?

Can you relate? Most of us remember how scary timed tests felt. The pressure to recall math facts fast can create lifelong math anxiety and severely affect the way children—and adults-—feel about working with numbers.

“Mathematics anxiety has been defined as ‘a feeling of tension and anxiety that interferes with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in … ordinary life and academic situations,’” according to a study cited in Frontiers in Psychology. This same article cited estimates as high as 68% of students categorized as “mathematics anxious” according to various studies from 1972 to 2014. 

Learning times tables can be particularly vexing for students. They require memorization in order to perform other more advanced math concepts. But the process of memorizing times tables and recalling math facts on demand can lead to significant stress for students.

Songs, Games, and Activities

Learning to multiply is foundational to developing more advanced math skills. But when students are faced with giant pages of blank times tables up to 100 that they have to memorize, the intimidation factor skyrockets. Math anxiety is a symptom of math processing difficulties, according to an article on The math processing center of the brain is overwhelmed by math tasks and shuts down. The student is handicapped by poor memory, visual-spatial impairment, directional and organizational confusion, processing errors and limitations, and extreme anxiety when presented with math tasks. These problems are not caused by anxiety; the anxiety is a stress response to frustrating processing inefficiencies over which the student has no control.

Thankfully, there are ways to help math-anxious learners excel at memorizing math facts without feeling stressed in the process. Parents can help a child overcome math anxiety by offering reassurance, practical assistance, and by making it fun, according to parenting writer Katherine Lee. “Most of all, they can set the tone by developing a positive attitude toward math themselves, and try to find a way to use numbers as much as they can with their child in everyday life,” she says.

The top way Lee says parents can help their child avoid stress about math: play games

How to Make Math Facts Fun

Teaching times tables with stories, songs, games, and activities help lower anxiety levels and makes math fun. Once a student associates learning and practicing their math facts with fun, they are exponentially better able to succeed at learning times tables.

Remember the mom at the beginning of this article whose daughter struggled to learn times tables? She discovered a fun way to make learning math facts easier and more effective:

“Late this summer, while driving home from back-to-school shopping, my daughter went into a panic about not knowing her math facts. On the car ride we discovered the Times Alive app, and she listened to the songs and stories without my help.

To get her ready for school, I required her to do some type of math fact practice for ten minutes daily over the next month. It was her choice which method she wanted to use. I gave her choicesę—other apps, Times Alive, Times Tables the Fun Way book for kids, YouTube videos, writing the facts on a wipe erase board, finger drawing on a window, gambling with goldfish, verbal quizzing. She tried all of them, but the thing she kept choosing was Times Alive and Times Tables the Fun Way book.

Over the next two weeks I watched her transform to actually thinking it was fun to practice math facts! She had to do it anyway, so I believe she thought, why not choose Times Alive since it is fun and she could practice independently.

She thought the stories and voices were funny and dorky in her 6th grade way, but finally she could remember those tricky numbers! Her anxiety melted away when it became fun. Now SHE could teach ME the stories. I asked her how she knew the facts and she said, ‘I remember the picture in the book’ or, ‘I think of the story.’

Today, when I quiz her, I keep the book out and give her hints like ‘remember the desert.’ It works like a charm, and we don’t have to argue about it! We still have to work on it but now we CAN. The barrier to practice has been removed. My confidence in being a helpful mom has been restored using this system.

Making Math Come Alive

So what is it about Times Alive that helps kids finally be able to learn times tables? In the Times Alive app, animated number characters act out a story for each fact. Once the student learns the story, they are able to remember the answer.

For instance, to teach 6×6, the story tells about Twin Sixes who set out to cross the desert to visit their cousins. Halfway there, they get low on water and stumble on a pond with a sign that says the water is for “Thirsty-sixes,” which sounds like the answer to 6×6—36.

So the trick is to get the student to think about the picture in their brain of the 6s crossing the desert with their tongues hanging out when they see 6×6. Oh yeah, they think. Thirsty sixes, 36.

Difficult facts are taught in the Times Alive App with an animated movie of the story, followed by a song, and then interactive games to reinforce the story. The app is based on the award-winning book, Times Tables the Fun Way Book for Kids.

Find out why Times Tables the Fun Way outperforms other methods of learning times tables for most students. The Times Alive App is available at the App Store. Get the app now and start your free trial today.

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