Posts Tagged ‘times tables’



It’s the night before the exam and Eliza cannot sleep. She twitches and becomes upset. “What’s the time?” L stays with her, but one hour and then two pass since her bedtime. A cup of hot milky chocolate comes and goes. She’s befuddled; too tired to sleep. Eventually, she drifts off, with more than seven hours to go until she needs to be up, getting ready for the school entrance exam.

Eliza has prepared diligently for the entrance exams all through the summer holiday. Taking tests, learning parts of the maths curriculum not covered at school, getting faster and more accurate.


I used Eliza’s preparations to persuade Robin to spend 15 minutes per day, around half of the holiday, to work on his times tables. Grumpy and reluctant at first, he began to pick up speed and finally memorise the ‘multiplication facts’ as the book called them. He also did some non-verbal reasoning, usually while in the bath, which entertained him as a puzzles.

Today, at school, he applied his holiday efforts in a mental maths test. He did well, he assured me. He knew his six times table.


Gabe slumped through the summer holiday: on the sofa, with TV on and tablet or phone in near constant use. I imagined his fitness draining away.

I was wrong. Back at school, he achieved his best ever bleep test score: 9.1.

Like father, like daughter


As the children grow and fill out their personalities, I find Eliza is closest to me in her motivations and preoccupations. Here are two silly examples – but telling for me.

When having a bath, Eliza lets her legs sink gradually to create two shrinking dry spots on her knee caps which, inevitably, tantalisingly, become tiny before being immersed.

In the kitchen, Eliza was trying to reach into a cupboard, but I was leaning across her destination, peering into the microwave.

“Sorry,” I explained, “I’m trying to see if my porridge can last the whole two minutes without bubbling over.”

“Oh, that’s OK” she said, stepping back and waiting, recognising that my little obsession deserved time and space.


Gabe scored 85% in the second of his three science tests this year. He was disappointed – with the result and with his position relative to friends he feels he should be out-performing. “I think I’ll have to revise more”, he conceded in a rare acknowledgement that working harder has a part to play.


Robin has struggled with arithmetic. This became plain to us with difficulties he was having learning the times tables. L and I decided we should help with extra practice at home. His teacher gave me a website address and we registered for Robin to place mental maths races against children from across the world. The game scenario backfired. Robin was keener on beating the opponent than getting a good score for himself. Despite trying to frame to activity in terms of personal best scores, Robin sought victories, or became disheartened.

We moved on to more traditional verbal tests. Robin progressed, through successful completion of tests at school, to the eight times table. For two weeks in succession at school, Robin could answer just five of the 20 questions set, with our preparation at home not counting for much at school. He seems not to have an affinity for the patterns in numbers, or a framework for retaining a sum that he’s just learnt.