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Math Monday::Memory Games = Better Math Skills

I noticed with Naturalist and myself that a lot of our problems with math actually have very little to do with the numbers and lots to do with our poor short term memory. (well, actually, we also have big problems with numbers, too, but one thing at a time!)

If you have a mathphobic kid that you are trying to help out, I suggest doing fun memory exercises rather than keep focusing on the rote memorization stuff or straight computation. Because the foundation for doing any of that well is a strong memory. How can you memorize math facts if your memory is full of swiss cheese holes?!

This is a great thing to do if your child has panic attacks surrounding math, or who says they hate it with a passion. If you can make math fun, then they have a harder time hating it, and when they stop hating it, they relax, and when they relax their brain works better. So spend your math time doing fun games instead! And if you can combine fun games with candy, then it’s all that much better.

Here’s a few that we like to do…without pictures because I’m in over my head with life a little bit this week. But I’ll explain it really well for you.

Take a handful of M&M’s. Put up a barrier of some sort, so you can see them on the table but your kid can’t, then arrange 4 of them in a pattern. Lift up the barrier for 2 seconds, then lower it, then have them recreate the pattern in front of them. If they can do that without a problem, increase it to 5 M&M’s. Then 6, then 7…the point is to build up to as many M&M’s as they can. You may need to adjust the time they can see them from 2 seconds to something longer. Then switch and have them come up with the sequence and you try to reconstruct it.

If you don’t want to use candy (but really why wouldn’t you?!), this can be recreated with just about any colorful toy. Legos work really well! Just sequence the colors in a specific pattern, let your child see it, then cover it up again, then have them try to reconstruct it with their legos. Keep building up to a greater and greater number of legos. You can also vary the time they reconstruct it…have them wait 30 seconds after you cover yours back up, or a minute, or even 5 minutes after they see it.

This has been a fun way for Naturalist and I to work on our memory skills, which in turn has helped our math recall. And, we’ve gotten to eat candy in the process! It’s a win win!

Other Resources:
My favorite fun math skills gamebook…125 activities to build skills for better math, and not necessarily through math computation drills! Mega-Fun Math Games and Puzzles for the Elementary Grades: Over 125 Activities that Teach Math Facts, Concepts, and Thinking Skills (Jossey-Bass Teacher)

our family favorite memory game, this one is so much fun, and no math at all!!! But totally develops memory skills that will help with retaining math facts/ideas. Tell your kid it’s time for math, then play this game, they’ll think they’re in heaven! STARE! Game

(STARE! JUNIOR if your kids are younger!)

6 Responses

  1. So, you are back on track , uh ? I am still on vacation. School will reopen only on 4th .
    I think more than my kids I need this game. My STM is so low nowadays I was wondering if my brain is shrinking.

  2. Hmm, I’m thinking that the games sound fun, and that’s the most important thing in my book, but…

    I’m a college math prof, and my memory sucks is rotten. I don’t know why I was able to learn the basic facts easily (I must have, don’t remember it!), but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more about seeing connections than truly having them memorized.

    I do remember my 6th grade class having a math competition with another (6th grade?) class. I’m guessing it was times tables and maybe basic division. It must have been one at a time from each class, those two trying to answer a question first. The other kids were depending on me to win for the class, and I was worried, because I knew I wasn’t particularly fast. That probably means I figured things out, instead of just recalling them.

    I tell my college students it’s a mistake to think of math as mainly a memory thing. It’s so much more about connections. I have heard that you need to be able to hold multiple things in your head at once to be able to do algebra.

    I’m wondering if you’d like the game where you put various small objects, maybe 10 or so, under a towel, show them for a moment, and then see how many the players can remember.

  3. You got any ideas for spelling? My kids are great at math, not so good a spelling.

  4. Thanks for the cool post….

    And FYI Target (at least the one near me) has Stare Jr. on clearance for $13.95. We will be playing it tonight at my house! 🙂

  5. Thanks for the Target tip, Marin!

    Another great math post on Child’s Play!

  6. Hi,
    I just found this blog. From personal experience, first as an undergrad math major who had working memory problems, then as a psychologist who completed a doctorate and post-doc training in neuropsychology (where I was better able to quantify my working memory deficits), I agree!

    I would also suggest games such that would involve sentence repetition, as well as games that would involve kids disentangling complex grammar. Are there any such games? I don’t know of any, but just wanted to point out that mathematics has a verbal component as well as a non-verbal component.

    I would also believe that any skills development that would enhance verbal and visuospatial working memory, at a young age, would have a lot of positive non-specific benefits for many other cognitive and academic areas.

    Just don’t bore your kids!

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