Mental Math for Kids: How to Make Learning Fun
6 min read · Aug 12, 2024
Table of contents
Hey there!
Welcome to the fourth chapter in my mental math series.
Today we're going to talk about mental math for kids.
This is a key skill that can really boost a kid's thinking, schoolwork, and confidence.
Sidenote: Elon Musk believes this too apparently.
Benefits of Mental Math for Kids
Cognitive and Academic Benefits
I've said this before, but I believe mental math is like a workout for your brain.
So when kids practice doing math in their heads, they get faster and more accurate at basic arithmetic. This lays a strong foundation that'll help them tackle tougher math concepts as they get older.
One of the biggest advantages is how it develops a child's "number sense". As they get better at mental calculations, they start to really understand how numbers relate to each other.
But here's something interesting  mental math doesn't just use one part of the brain, it engages both sides.
This means it's helping develop creativity and imagination along with logical thinking!
Emotional and Behavioral Benefits
When children get good at solving math problems in their heads, it gives their selfconfidence a real boost. This increased confidence can spill over into other areas of their schoolwork and how they approach learning in general.
Interestingly, there's even some research that suggests a link between mental math skills and emotional health.
Some scientists at Duke University did a brainscanning study and found that the part of the brain used in mental math is also associated with better emotional health. So, practicing mental math might actually help kids get better at managing their emotions!
Finally, mental math can help reduce math anxiety, which is a common issue among students (maybe you know this firsthand).
Reducing this anxiety usually leads to better performance.
Fun Activities to Improve Mental Math Skills
Multiplication War
A great game that's like regular war, but with a math twist (I'm kidding). Here's how you play:
 Take out all the face cards from a deck, leaving only the number cards and aces (which count as 1).
 Two players each flip over two cards at the same time.
 Each player has to multiply their two numbers in their head and shout out the answer.
 The player with the bigger answer wins all four cards.
 If there's a tie, you have a "war" by flipping over two more cards each.
This game is fun, but it's also teaching you to multiply quickly in your head. As you get better, you can add in bigger numbers to make it more challenging.
Numbers Jeopardy
Remember that TV show Jeopardy? Well, we're going to make a math version of it (which you can play online too). Here's how:
 Make a game board with different categories and point values.
 Your categories can be different types of math, like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and so on.
 Players pick a category and a point value, then solve the math problem in their head.
 Get it right, you get points. Get it wrong, you might lose points.
This game is great because it makes you think fast about all kinds of math. And because it's a competition, it keeps things exciting.
Advanced Strategies and Techniques
Mnemonic Devices
Mnemonic devices are like little memory tricks that help you remember important stuff. They're incredibly powerful tools for boosting your mental math skills. Here are a few examples:
 Acronyms: Remember "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" (PEMDAS)? We talked about it in chapter 2. It's a way to remember the order of operations in math.
 Rhymes or songs: Making up catchy tunes can help you memorize math formulas.
 Visual mnemonics: Look up the "butterfly method". For adding and subtracting fractions, it's a great example of using pictures to remember math concepts.
Here's a tip: Encourage children to make up their own mnemonic devices. This process helps them understand and remember the concepts even better.
Mental Math Tricks
Rounding Up When Multiplying by 9
Here's a neat trick for multiplying by 9:
 Round up the number you're multiplying to the nearest ten.
 Multiply that rounded number by 9 (which is the same as multiplying by 10 and subtracting the original number).

 Then subtract the difference between the rounded number and the original number from your result.
For example, let's say you're doing 68 x 9:
 Round 68 up to 70
 70 x 9 = 630
 Subtract 18 (2 x 9) from 630
 You get 612!
Doubling and Halving
This trick is great when one of your numbers is even:
 Double one number and halve the other.
 Keep doing this until you get to a calculation that's easy to do in your head.
For instance, to calculate 16 x 35:
 Double 35 to 70, and halve 16 to 8
 8 x 70 = 560
ProblemSolving Techniques
CoverCopyCompare
The CoverCopyCompare (CCC) is great for improving your accuracy and speed. Here's how it works:
 Look at a math problem that's already solved correctly.
 Cover it up and write it out from memory.
 Uncover the original and compare your work to the correct answer.
This can be applied to various mathematical skills and is particularly beneficial for students with learning difficulties.
TapedProblem Approach
This approach uses recordings to help you practice. Here's what you do:
 Make a worksheet with math problems and spaces for answers.
 Record yourself reading each problem, followed by a short pause.
 As you listen to the recording, try to write the answer during the pause.
 If you don't answer in time or get it wrong, write the correct answer when it's given in the recording.
This method combines what you hear with what you write, which helps you learn and remember better.
Tools and Resources
Math Apps and Websites
Here are some great digital tools that can make practicing mental math a lot more fun:
 Mental Math Pro: Yes, my own product. But I did try to make it the best/ cheapest resource!
 Prodigy Math: This is like a video game, but for math. It figures out what you're good at and what you need to work on, and adjusts accordingly.
 NRICH: This one's made by the University of Cambridge. It's got some really challenging math problems and games that'll really make you think.
 Math Is Fun: This website's got everything  clear explanations, examples, and exercises you can do right on the site.
Math Books and Reading Materials
Here are some books that can really help:
 "Each Orange Had 8 Slices" by Paul Giganti Jr.: This book introduces multiplication in a way that's easy to visualize.
 "The Grapes of Math" by Greg Tang: This one's got visual puzzles that'll help you see patterns and think strategically.
 Sir Cumference series by Cindy Neuschwander: These are adventure stories set in medieval times, but they're all about math concepts.
 "Secrets of Mental Math" by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer: This one's for when a bit older kids. It's full of techniques for doing calculations in your head.
Educational Games and Platforms
Now, let's talk about some games that can make math practice fun:
 Math Bingo: It's like regular bingo, but with math problems. It's a great way to practice different operations.
 Stand Up, Sit Down: This is a simple game where you stand up or sit down based on math facts. It gets your whole body involved in learning.
 101 and Out: In this game, you start with 101 points and try to get to exactly zero by adding or multiplying dice rolls.
Conclusion
By incorporating these activities, strategies, and resources into regular math practice, parents and educators can help kids become better at mental math in a fun and interactive manner.
See you in the next chapter 🙂 Be well.
About the author
Richard Reis
Founder of Mental Math Pro! Also currently doing a fun little "25 AI Startups in 50 Weeks" challenge.