Focus on the Facts

There are several things I’ve learned over the years about teaching math in the homeschool. Undeniably, the first and most important element for imparting a solid math education is—drum roll please—to focus on the facts! Skip the skip counting and help your children memorize their math facts. Truly, it is the most important part of elementary math. It’s more important than that drill sheet they have in front of them each day, and yes, it’s even more important than that well-researched, expensive curriculum you bought at the book fair.

Focus on the Facts

Again, if I could implore you to do ONE THING in the elementary years that would benefit your children the most it would be to focus on the facts. Please, please, please make sure your children learn them!

You see, middle school math is next to impossible for the student that must first stop and think about the answer to six times eight. If the child is not certain of the answer to seven plus six, what we call “careless” mistakes will abound. Further, it will take him an hour to do what could be completed in 15 minutes—if he only knew his facts!


As students grow older, math problems get trickier, lengthier, and often involve several steps to solve. If a student has to ponder the answer to every addition, subtraction, and multiplication fact they encounter, math will become the bane of your existence. Fractions are frightening for a kid that can’t find a common denominator because he doesn’t know his math facts.

Skip counting is fine, and it may work for a while, but in the end, the student simply must know his facts. If your child is still skip counting while taking the SAT, he will probably get left behind. In essence, by sixth grade, your children should have all their multiplication math facts, through at least the tens, down pat. They should also know their addition and subtraction facts through twenty. If they do, they are then free to focus on the algorithms (the procedures for doing the equations) without the burden of lacking the basics.

I learned a little late that math facts should be the most important part of a child’s early math education. With my first child, I spent more time teaching the algorithms and only sporadically worked on memorizing the facts. By sixth grade, I knew we were in big trouble. Thankfully, teaching math facts is not rocket science. Thus, we were able to remediate this issue by focusing each day on the monotonous and painfully boring task of flash cards. I’ll explain the flashcard methods that were most effective for my students in my next post. 

I also want to point out that I purchased and watched other homeschool moms purchase expensive games, gadgets, and software in the hopes of making math facts memorization a breeze. This is unnecessary, and by trying to make it fun, we complicate the process and risk not even doing it. In the end, it really boils down to the nitty-gritty work of sitting with your child—one on one, each and every day—to ensure that he solidly memorizes those facts.

Read on for more homeschool encouragement.

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10 thoughts on “Focus on the Facts”

  1. I also agree with you that true mathematical approach manifested itself more in Greek scientific traditions than ahywhere else. The clay tablet I was reffering to is known as Plimpton 322. It contains among other increadible things very vast array of Pythagorean triplets. At the same time is does not contain something which is true essence of math – the proof for general case. The complete proof, as it is known today (and it is about 37 of them) is called Theorem of Pythagoras, because his school was first who offered it to humanity.


  2. You are so right! And there is so substitute for those good old fashioned flashcards. I made my own, and drilled my children daily, one fact family at a time…like all of the 2 x, then all of the 3 x, etc. I have two sets of cards for each family. One set with answers, and one without. I have them study the ones with answers daily, saying them outloud. 6 x 2 = 12, 6 x 5 = 30, etc. Then I would drill them. Then I would have them say and look again at the ones they missed. Day after day, family after family, until they are mastered. I drill addition and subtraction beginning in first grade, and multiplication beginning in 2nd grade.
    Have a great day!

  3. Somehow I came across you blog while googling an opossum nature study 🙂 (You had commented on someone else's blog about opossums) Anyway, Just wanted to pop in and tell you that our family is using your Apologia Astronomy text this year – first time we've used Apologia – and we LOVE it! I love how easy and "chat-like" it is to read aloud, and my kids remember so much of the information from just my reading aloud to them from it. Thank you for writing it!! I plan to stay with Apologia from now on. Can't wait to get to your other books!

    We've used Times Tales recently here, and I was amazed at how fast my kids memorized their times tables. And it was fun!

  4. Thanks Jeannie! I have made this mistake. Help!! What are some of the curriculums that will help with this problem? Thanks so much for your time.

  5. Thank you thank you thank you. I really needed to hear this today. My children are enjoying your curriculum but sometimes we get bogged down. I cant wait for your next post. Molly

  6. wow! just when i was thinking maybe we could get by without it… I even use mathusee which highly recommends memorization & i was still putting it off. Thank you sooo much! My son is almost 9 yrs. old. I will now most definitely enforce learning facts! Again, thank you! Just when i needed it!

  7. I have found this to be absolutely true myself. I have a sixth grader, and we spent ALL summer last year working on getting those math facts DOWN. Until then, I figured he'd get them down just by working on his sheets. He didn't. He figured out shortcuts, but they still take longer than recalling. I am so thankful now that we took the time. And so is he. 🙂

  8. I so agree with you Jeannie! The biggest mistake I have made in homeschooling my children was to spend a lot of time and energy on teaching skip counting. The lesson was taught so well that both of my children prefer to skip count their facts instead of memorizing! I have tried and tried to re-teach them. Oh, if only I could go back and NEVER purchase the Math-U-See skip counting cd! I hope this post will prevent other homeschoolers from making this mistake too.

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