Mom-to-Mom Support/Help with multiplication and regrouping

Help with multiplication and regrouping

Boy struggling with multiplication


My son is having problems learning multiplication and regrouping. He is also resistant to drill work because he finds it difficult. I have tried using software programs, but it’s not working. I become very frustrated when he tells me he can’t do it and just sits at the table looking at his work. If I go over the multiplication tables orally or with flash cards he tells me he doesn’t know. I have tried having him write each one five times, but that also turns into a battle. I am very frustrated and don’t know what else to do. I have tried taking away TV time, outside time, etc. until he completes his work. That leads to crying and pouting.

Dear Mom,

Thank you for your question. This week, my daughter and her children are here visiting. She is an elementary school teacher, and I have asked her if she wouldn’t mind giving you some pointers to aid in the teaching of the skills that are giving you challenges.

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Multiplication is nothing more than skip counting. I’m sure your son can skip count (5, 10, 15, 20, etc.), so it is a good idea to introduce multiplication in this way. If you tie new knowledge to something he already feels confident in, then it makes it easier for him to learn the material. He sees it as already being halfway there. The easiest times tables to start with skip counting are 5’s (5, 10, 15, 20, etc.), 10’s (10, 20, 30, 40, etc.), and 2’s (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc.), so try introducing these first. Then after reintroducing the idea of multiplication, use manipulatives (dried beans, buttons, whatever is handy) to demonstrate the idea of number grouping. For example, have him make 2 groups of five. Count them individually to get ten, then ask him what is a faster way to count. Then keep adding groups of five and counting by fives. (This adds purpose and gives a reason for learning it—it’s faster! Everybody loves faster!!) Now do the same activity with the other times tables. After group counting, it would be a good idea to give him a worksheet working the tables you counted using manipulatives. (You could try doing one or two tables a day). Let him use the manipulatives to help him if he needs it.

Another activity that leans more towards art would be to have him make pictures of groups. For example, he could cut out pictures of things and group them in 3’s or 4’s. Paste them on a piece of paper and then write the multiplication problem it shows. He could also use sponge paint or paint stamps, or he could draw pictures. Once he understands the process of multiplication, what it is, and has some confidence in working problems, it is time to work on speed.

A wonderful way to review the tables and work on speed (memorization) is with music. There are CDs that have the multiplication tables set to music. Any teacher supply store will have them, or you can go online. You can also make up your own song using a familiar tune or a tune of your own. Adding simple dance steps or hand motions will also help the information to stick. Use the song for daily review then when he gets stuck you can hum a bar to jog his memory. After his confidence is up and he is doing well at all of these, then start flashcards. I don’t normally do time drills or flashcards until I feel they have mastery over the skill because drill can be frustrating if they don’t know the skills. Also, for students that are really struggling, I modify their workbook/worksheet work. That means I give them fewer problems, and I work with them to finish by helping them to use the strategies used in class.

Regrouping is a difficult skill for students to master. The important thing to remember with regrouping is that it is a matter of tens and ones. You are borrowing tens and adding them to the ones’ place. This a very difficult skill for students to master because it requires a bit of mind-bending. Again, I like to use manipulatives (back to the beans and buttons) when introducing the skill because students seem to get it better when they see it. So, make a workmat by taking a sheet of paper and drawing a line down the middle (three lines when you get to hundreds). At the top of the right column write “ones” and at the top of the tens’ column write “tens.” Now, using your manipulatives, show the number 24 by putting four beans in the ones’ column and 20 beans (some people use “ten sticks” which are ten beans glued to a popsicle stick) in the tens’ column. Now subtract 5 ones. The first thing he will see is that you can’t subtract five ones because there aren’t five ones. Ask him what he should do. Borrow from the tens. Remind him that the tens stay grouped so you have to borrow the whole ten, not just part of it (this is where the sticks come in handy because they are connected). To move it to the ones you have to break the tens into ones. So take a ten from the tens’ place and add ten beans to the ones’ side. Now he can subtract five. What is your answer? Well you have one ten in the tens’ place still and nine ones left in the ones’ place, so you have nineteen. Do this a few times. Then the next lesson, start writing out the problems and working them using the workmat. Then after he masters that, take away the workmat and have him do it on paper, thinking it in his head. Go slow, doing a few problems at a time. I always say I’d rather my student get five problems right then do 20 problems and get ten wrong. Now is a good time to get a set of steps down for him. Put the steps to music to help him remember them.

Remember that both of these skills are difficult for students because they can’t see the logic in them at first. Teachers often struggle in these areas as well, so don’t be discouraged. I can’t tell the number of times my teaching partners have gone to each other for help with these skills because some students just weren’t getting it. Just be patient, and most importantly, go at his pace—because you can.

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I hope that this excellent advice from one “who has been there and is doing that” helps you on your homeschooling journey.

Sending out a prayer,
Rita Munn

About Rita Munn

Rita Munn is a veteran homeschool mother of ten. For many years she was a popular speaker at Catholic homeschooling conferences. Writing has been a passion of hers for as long as she can remember, and she loves to use her writing skills to share her homeschooling experience with other parents. Her “family journal” reflections are featured in CHC’s Educating for Eternity e-newsletter.