C’mon, you can’t help it. You HAVE to say “who do we appreciate?!” It’s one of those automatic things that just happens. (I am willing to concede that perhaps this only happens if you’ve grown up the U.S. and have had some exposure to cheering for a team.) You might roll your eyes at it, but that cheer is a mathy moment.

Skip counting is a precursor to learning multiplication facts and developing automaticity with them. Automaticity is a fancy word for having memorized something, or, more accurately and importantly, being able to mentally access that something quickly without having to revert to a long thought process. This becomes really important from 4th grade and on because if you cannot access your multiplication facts quickly, you will get bogged down in the extra time required to figure them out with repeated addition, and you will not be able to focus well on whatever new things you are learning. You might begin to think that math is not fun or interesting. You might even begin to think you are not good at math.

So, skip count with your young elementary school kids to help set the foundations and support the scaffolding that will build understanding and automaticity with numbers. Play with numbers so that your kids know they can play with numbers! Start with 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s. As your child feels comfortable, go on to 3’s and 6’s, 4’s and 8’s, then 7’s and 9’s. No worksheets or materials necessary. In fact, depending on your child, you may want to make sure this does NOT feel like a math quiz. Here’s how I did it with the 6-year-old today:

Our daily walk to school takes about 10 minutes. Along the way we take note of cracks in the sidewalk, leaves that haven’t fallen yet, and dog poop that wasn’t picked up. Yeah, no one has figure out how to solve that problem yet. Today, after noting a particularly cool crack in the sidewalk and avoiding a particularly large dog dropping, I asked the kid how high he thought he could skip count by 2’s. He didn’t respond. I didn’t push. Who knows…maybe he was thinking about it. Or maybe he was watching a bird. Doesn’t matter. I spoke again:

“I’m going to try. I’m going to see how high I can go. Two, four, six, eight…sixteen, eighteen, twenty!” Then I stopped. Within a moment, he jumped in…

“Two, four, six, eight……twenty-six, twenty-eight, thirty!” Then he smiled at me.

“Nice. You went further than I did. You got all the way up to dirty thirty!” Why did I call it dirty thirty? Just because it rhymed. The kid looked at me quizzically and asked if thirty really is dirty. That made me laugh. I told him no, but it rhymed. Like plenty twenty. And Ben ten. May as well mix a little language learning into the mathy moment if you can!

Next I asked him if thought he could skip count by 3’s. Again, no response. So again, I gave it a try myself:

“3, 6, 9, 12, 18….uh…uh…21, 24, 27, 30!” I purposely put some space between the numbers so that the kid could perhaps think about what the next number was before I said it aloud. Or perhaps he was looking at birds. Doesn’t matter.

He did not start to skip count after I did it. He may have tired of my mathy talk. He may have been interested in other things. We have many more walks (and car rides and dinners and other opportunities for these kinds of quick mathy moments) ahead of us. I will try again tomorrow!

(Mathematically…skip counting reinforces the repeated addition pattern that underpins multiplication. When kids begin learning their multiplication facts, if they have already been well-exposed to the skip counting patterns of the numbers 1-10, it will be much easier for them to connect those patterns to the multiplication table. You can find ways to model skip counting for your kids in all sorts of activities. When you are counting anything with your kids, see if there is a way to group items so you can skip count. Yahtzee is also a  good game for practicing this. Or just rolling lots of dice, grouping them, and adding.)

Photo credit: alice_bag on Foter.com / CC BY-NC