When I was a third and fourth grader my parents and my teachers tried desperately to drill the times tables into my head. But I knew I could not learn them. Of course that was self fulfilling and embarrassingly I never did learn them until I was teaching my own children.
Overall the whole times tables thing was an early failure in a long string of math failures in my childhood and teen years. But I could do the twos, fives, and tens with absolute ease. Why could I do them so easily? Because of skip counting. In kindergarten and first grade we learned to skip count by twos, fives, and tens. When multiplication rolled around those numbers were already at hand.
In spite of understanding this, I have pretty much failed to teach my children to skip count. Sometimes the things we think are so easy are only easy because someone who cared drilled them into our heads so dedicatedly. So I thought skip counting was just something my kids would grasp easily with little effort from either me or them. I was wrong. As a result they have also struggled with the times tables. It has now become generational failure.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my kids and I are doing some math soul searching this year. We are going back to the basics and becoming fluent in numbers so that we can succeed at algebra.
So this post is about some ways we are learning skip counting so that number patterns become second nature and the times tables are easy breezy. The goal is to make those patterns and those problems so familiar that no thought is required, in the same way we don’t have to concentrate on the sound of each letter as we read a book.
YouTube Videos Start the Lesson Off
When we first start skip counting with a new number we watch a skip counting video several times. After the first view the kids are required to sing along with the number portion of the song. We watched the video at least once every day we were practicing skip counting. People are so generous with their talents. We have found many great educational videos on YouTube. This video, which skip counts by twos, is great because it goes clear up to 40, explains the pattern, and then goes backward from 20, all in a chanting song.
Games Reinforce and Practice the Skill
After the video we played a game or two while practicing skip counting. Each day I choose a different game to use in practicing whichever number we are skip counting by. We repeat the ones the kids really like. Here are a few ideas from an earlier post on skip counting. Below are more ideas.
Four Square Skip Counting
I remember playing four-square on the playground in elementary school. So I taught it to my kids. Here are the rules. We have the worst four-square court in the whole world. A crack in our pavement is one line and a broom handle forms another. There are no out of bound lines. It looks a little bit third world. It kind of is, because North Idaho.
Once they had the basics of the game, we added a new rule. Every time you hit the ball you had to say the next number in our skip counting sequence. After a few times through we upped the ante by requiring backward skip counting. The kids asked to do it two days in a row. If you don’t have four kids you can also play three square or two square (a parent can play also).
I’m not gonna lie, my kids are not the most athletic kids, so this game was a struggle and maybe not the best skip counting practice for us. Ditto with the jump roping below. If you have more athletic kids who don’t have to concentrate so hard on the physical stuff then this works better.
Skip Counting Basketball
This is a natural for when you are practicing the twos because basketball scoring is two points per basket. But you could do it with any number. When we played it the kids just lined up and shot baskets, one try each. Each time a basket was successfully shot we counted another two points, forward then backward.
Ball Bounce Skip Counting
This is simple. Just have the child bounce a ball, saying the next number in the skip counting sequence on each bounce. We go forward and then backward.
Jump Rope Skip Counting
My kids are terrible at jumping rope. The day we went out to do this with skip counting might have been the first time they ever jumped rope. So we practiced for a bit first. All this effort to do games and kinestheic learning means I’ve been teaching my kids more of the games and activities from my childhood. A nice little bonus. They just skip count while jumping, one number for each jump. If they messed up we just picked up where they left off. For them, it was too frustrating to try to get the whole sequence in one go. For kids who are a little better at jump roping you could make it a goal to skip count up and down without stopping.
Hopscotch Skip Counting
Draw a hopscotch board with ten rows of spaces and write the skip counting numbers in each row. When you have a double space, where two feet can land, you write the same number in each space. You can follow the official hopscotch rules or just have the kids hop up and down the board while skip counting forwards them backwards.
You can practice skip counting to any repetitive kind of physical activity. As you
- dribble a soccer ball around cones,
- swing on a swing,
- bounce on a trampoline,
- catch and throw a ball between two or more people .
Make it a contest by having the kids skip count forward then backward over and over until they make a mistake. Their siblings have to catch the mistake or it doesn’t count; that way everyone is practicing all the time even though when it isn’t their turn they think they are just checking on the others.
Skip Counting Mazes
This one is seat work, but also kinesthetic because the kids are manipulating the puzzle pieces. There are tons of free skip counting puzzles on the interwebz, just do a Google or Pinterest search and you’ll find tons. This one is from Life Over C’s.
You can also make your own. Just take any picture, glue it to a piece of card stock so some of the card stock is poking out at the bottom, divide it into ten equal strips and write the skip counting numbers in order along the bottom edge. Give the kids the puzzle already cut apart. They can assemble it once and glue it into a math notebook or you can keep it to use over and over.
Written Work For Even More Practice
Hundred Number Chart Multiplication Patterns
On the second or third day of skip counting, after the kids are becoming familiar with the pattern, they write the skip counting numbers in a vertical column on a blank hundred number chart. I have them use pencil first and they do their best without looking at a key or number chart. If they forget, we go over it. By this point they may remember with some thought and maybe some counting on fingers. But we will keep practicing because it needs to become fluid and automatic, forward and backward.
Hundred Number Chart Skip Counting
We used a blank hundred number chart and the kids wrote in the numbers (you could also start with a numbered hundred number chart). Then they colored in the spaces that were counting by 2s, or 3s, or whatever. You can put several skip counting patterns on the same hundred number chart or use a different chart for each number.
Number Wheel Patterns
We did this one outside on the back patio with some sidewalk chalk my kids made me buy after the debacle with the four square court (see above). You just draw a circle on the patio in chalk then number from 0 to 9 around the circle, 0 at the top, 5 at the bottom. Then you place your chalk at 0 and move it in a straight line to the next number in your sequence. Each number forms a different, interesting geometric pattern.
I was intending at first to have the kids just write the 2s, 3s, and 4s, but they got very excited about seeing what pattern each number would make so we went clear up to 9, then I asked them what the 10s pattern would look like. Later we will probably see what happens with the 11s and 12s and so on.
I also found a printable page of number wheels, but you can also have your kids draw and label their own wheels. We did this a second time and my kids used math compasses to make perfect circles in their math notebooks . . . a little practice with a math tool snuck in there.
Blank Spaces Practice
I wrote part of the skip counting sequence up on the chalkboard and left blanks. The kids took turns filling them in and correcting one another. You could also just write this on a lap board or on a sheet of paper.
This works really well backward too, writing the whole sequence up, saying it once or twice then erasing a number at a time as you repeat it again and again. Erasing bits as you go is a great memorization tool.
Skip Counting Maze
Lots of people have created and shared online free skip counting mazes, like this one from My Favorite Kind of Crazy.
Moving on to New Patterns
After we’ve been working on a skip counting pattern for a few weeks and they’ve got it down forwards and backwards pretty well, I introduce the next number. We’re just going up in order: 2s then 3s, then 4s. Right now we’re on our third week and I’ve just introduced the 4s. But each day we also practice each of the other numbers we’ve already learned.
I started introducing the multiplication facts for mastered numbers after two weeks of practice, so that’s just the 2s so far. We will be adding more games an activities based on multiplication facts later, but for now we’re just playing for cards.
- I put the 2s fact flash cards in order: 2×0, then 2×1, and so on.
- As I hold up a card the first one to say the answer gets to keep the card.
- The winner, the one with the most cards at the end, is out for the second round so the slower kids get more practice.
- After we did that a few times, I mixed up the order of the facts and we played again.
So far the kids think this is great fun and not remotely like the frustrating multiplication drills we’ve done in the past. I’ll have to mix up the game soon though to keep it fun. Also, they are really getting the 2s down after only two weeks.
Do you have some fun skip counting games or activities that have worked well for you? Share, below, in the comments!
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