March 29, 2018

Mark Skoskiewicz

Mental Math Games On the Go

Topics: Learning at Home, Learning Through Play, STEAM


In a recent blog article, Think Fun wrote about the benefits of teaching money management to kids at a young age.

In that article, the following key lessons were discussed:

  • Good things come to those who wait – this lesson discussed how kids benefit from being exposed early to the idea that focusing on long term goals instead of short term gain is often ultimately the more fulfilling.
  • Keep track – this was all about the idea that if you spend money on this thing, you don’t have money available to spend on that thing there. What do you prefer? It’s important to think about your alternatives before making a final decision. Don’t just jump at the first exciting item you see.
  • Money can help others - this lesson was about teaching kids that money doesn’t just go towards things for you, it can also be saved and then spent on things for others. Kids can then be exposed early on to the idea that sharing with others can bring happiness to the person doing the sharing.

These are good reasons to teach money management to young children. But I want to open an entirely new front in support of teaching money management to kids at an early age. 

Money management tends to involve some amount of math and calculation of numbers. In many contexts (at the grocery store, buying clothes or toys, etc.) we can envision the “mental math” that is required to make good daily choices. Most parents might admit that true comfort doing mental math is somewhat rare. Most of us, myself included, tend to tense up a bit when asked to do some quick mental math around the correct tip at a restaurant or the price per square foot of different homes to buy or flooring to purchase at home depot. It seems like a skill that is easy to practice, but not fully embraced by most of us.


What might seem like a totally different point to make is that most parents probably also recognize the importance of exposing kids to STEM and creating an interest in math and science at a young age. And when kids demonstrate competence, confidence, and comfort with math, they are more likely to be interested in and motivated by projects or classes in STEM fields.

Interestingly, there is a fair amount of evidence that comfort and ability with basic “mental math” activities reinforces general mathematics skills (i.e., comprehension of algebra or geometry concepts, etc.) making it more likely that kids will build strong foundational mathematics skills, perform well in math class, and be comfortable and interested in STEM over time. Mental math is also more important than most parents realize when it comes to performing well on standardized tests, even in situations where calculators are allowed. If you can quickly figure out that 40% of 50 is 20, because you know that 10% of 50 is 5, and 5 * 4 = 20, you can do that part of an algebra problem almost instantaneously, without taking the time to punch numbers on a calculator. And most standardized tests are timed, with speed being the differentiating factor for students who score extremely well vs. above average or average.


So mental math is very important for many reasons. If you are already teaching your young child about effective money management, why not incorporate these quick, easy, and hopefully fun “games” that also build mental math skills: 

  • When thinking about purchasing a toy:
    • How many could you buy? How many smaller toys for X$ could you buy instead of this larger toy that costs Y$?
    • How long would it take? If you saved X$ each month for 10 months? Would you be able to buy that toy?
  • While at a restaurant:
    • Guess the bill – tell your kids the rough amount that each meal cost. Ask them what the total bill will be?
    • Calculate the tip – tell them the total bill. Then ask what the tip would be if you decided to tip 10%? What about 20%? 30%?
  • While at the grocery store:
    • Compare the sizes - look at two different sizes of the same product. Ask which one is a better “deal” on a per unit (pound, ounce, item, ,etc.) – for older kids only
    • Generic vs. branded - point out two different items, one generic and one “branded.” What % discount comes with the generic option – for older kids only?


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Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a provider of 1-1 tutoring and test prep that helps students build core foundational academic skills and build customized study plans to succeed in class and on standardized tests.