Metal Math is the solving of mathematical problems using nothing but the human brain. In its most basic form, mental math can refer to doing simple addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems in your head. It can also refer to math tricks and secrets that give people the ability to do much more complicated math problems in their heads quickly.
Obviously the ability to do math in your head is a very important skill for children to master, and it will be useful to them throughout their lives. It is really worth the effort in getting your kids interested and excited about math because there is research showing that children’s proficiency in math correlates strongly with their future earnings, and a good way to go about doing this is by helping them become really good at mental math.
Learning to do mental math takes a lot of hard work, practice and can be a bit difficult, but as with most things, the more your kids practice the better at it they will become. Before getting to the really cool part of mental math (the tricks), your kids need to have a solid foundation in basic math facts. They should be able to quickly add and subtract numbers from 1-20, know their multiplication tables up to the 12s, and know basic division. Once that is mastered, they can move onto the fun stuff and learn all the neat tricks that will make them love math and really excel at school.
This post has a mix of resources that can help with mastery of basic math, as well as resources that are helpful for learning mental math tricks.
Free Online Mental Math Games
- Mission 2110 Mental Maths is a very fun and slick game for children in grades 4 to 6.
- Topmarks has a great list of mental math games with appropriate ages listed.
- Math Blasters has been around for a while, but it is definitely worth a look. There are lots of different forms for Math Blasters you can get it as an app, as a Nintendo DS game or play it directly on the Jumpstart site.
- Math Playground is a good mental math game for grade 4-6.
There are lots of great math books that give really good overviews of the best mental math strategies and tricks that are useful for kids to learn. It was a little hard to narrow down the list so we are including all of our favourites. Check your local library for these titles, as they are all pretty popular books and will probably be available (for free!)
- The Verbal Math Lesson Level 1: Step-by-Step Math without Pencil or Paper (for ages 5-7) is a popular book with homeschoolers. This series has three levels that correspond to grade levels, so level one is for kids in grade one, etc. Verbal math is basically the same idea as mental math and this book is a good starting point to help your kids begin to learn how to do math in their head.
- Speed Math for Kids: The Fast, Fun Way To Do Basic Calculations by Bill Handley (for ages 9+) is a good introduction for kids to mental math. It teaches kids how to multiply and divide large numbers in their head, what they can do to make addition and subtraction easy, tricks for understanding fractions and decimals and how to quickly check answers every time they make a calculation.
- Greg Tang has a really cool series of books are a slightly different approach to mental math. There are seven books in this series including Math Fables (ages 3-6), Math for All Seasons(ages 5-8), Math-terpieces (ages 5-9), The Grapes of Math (ages 7-12), Math Appeal (ages 7-12), The Best of Times (ages 7-12) and Math Potatoes (ages 7-12). These books helps students learn to manipulate groups of objects in their mind using rhyming couplets, riddles, and visual clues. Also check out Greg Tang Math.com.
- Arithmetricks: 50 Easy Ways to Add, Subtract, Multiply, and Divide Without a Calculator by Edward H. Julius (for ages 10+) has easy math tricks that are appealing for kids. In addition to the 50 tricks, the text includes a review of mathematical concepts, applications, math curiosities, illustrations and parlor tricks. This is a very well-reviewed and highly recommended book for children in grade 5 and up.
If you are looks for mental math books a couple of titles that you will come across often are Short-Cut Math by Gerard W. Kelly and Secrets of Mental Math by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer. These are great books to help older children to learn mental math, but we wouldn’t recommend getting these for anyone younger than 13 or 14 years old because they are written for an adult audience and would probably be a bit too much for younger kids.
If you want your kid to get good at mental math they will need to practice. It is generally recommended to do at least 15 minutes a day of math practice. An easy way to get kids to practice is with some fun workbooks. Here are a few that have great reviews.
- Daily Mental Math Series have workbooks for kids in grade 2 to grade 10. They are great for math practice to improve kid’s mental math skills
- Singapore Mental Math Series are very popular workbooks that have a strong focus on mental math strategies. They have workbooks for grades 2-7.
Apps are sort of perfect for having kids practice their mental math. There are so many math apps to choose from that would be helpful to mental math practice we tried to narrow it down a bit, here are a few of our favourites:
- Math Bingo (for ages 5-12) helps children learn to add, subtract, multiply and divide using the simple game of Bingo. This is a good app to help kids improve their math basics.
- King of Math Junior (for ages 6+) is a mathematics game set in a medieval environment where you climb the social ladder by answering maths questions and solving puzzles.
- Mathmateer™ has different math missions that involve various math concepts. It’s fun and helpful for kids learning math.
- Mathemagics – Mental Math Tricks this is a very popular app that has been out for quite a while. It shows you almost 60 math “tricks” and then lets you practice what you learned in the lesson with a practice session. For older kids ages 12+ and adults.
- Quick Math – Arithmetic & Times Tables (for kids in Grades 3-6) and Quick Math+ (for kids in grade 5 and up) helps kids practice mental addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and mixed operations using handwriting recognition. It’s very fun and addictive to play.
- Math Evolve (for ages 6+) is an arcade style game that is designed to help kids practice math facts, number sense, and mental math skills.
Free Online Videos
Schoolhouse Rock: Multiplication Classroom Edition If you are looking for something a little retro that reminds you of your own childhood, check out this DVD. It’s not for everyone, but definitely worth a look if you were into Schoolhouse Rock as a child.
For a slightly older child who has mastered the basic math facts have a look at this very watchable series on some of the more common mental math tricks:
Sometimes kids just aren’t into the worksheets and books so you need a little bit of a different tactic. Here are some fun games that will help your kids with their mental maths without them even realizing they are learning.
- Math War Addition and Subtraction Game Cards is a fun game to help reinforce addition and subtraction. A lot of the reviewers for this game mentioned that kids have so much fun that they don’t even realize that they are doing math.
- Think Fun Math Dice (for ages 8-12) and ThinkFun Math Dice Jr (for ages 6+) are both fun and inexpensive games for early math learners. Parents like these dice because the games help reinforce key math concepts, the games are short and you can take these dice anywhere because they are small.
- Sumoku (for ages 9-13) is a fun crossword-style game with numbers. Players add up their numbered tiles to a multiple of the number on the die. Scores grow with every connected row and column. It provides addition, multiplication and division practice, adds in some Sudoku-like puzzle problem solving.
- Sum Swamp Addition and Subtraction Game (for ages 4-7) helps kids learn the basic operations of addition and subtraction. Players roll all three dice and create a number sentence by placing the highest number first, the operation symbol second and the smallest number last. The player then adds or subtracts the numbers, and moves ahead the sum or difference.
Websites with good Mental Math Tricks for Younger Kids
Luckily for parents, many mental math secrets are easily available online. Here are a few sites that break down some of the more common mental math secrets that kids can learn.
- Woodlands Resources is a good straight forward list of some of the best multiplication math tricks that are suitable for younger kids.
- Dear Teacher has a great breakdown mental math tricks for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.