Why Does My Child Need to be Fluent in Math Facts?

Why Your Child Needs To Be Fluent In Basic Math Facts.

Excellence in math doesn’t just happen. Fluency matters.

I’m Brenda Bailey. I’m retired from 30 years of teaching elementary and special education. I’m still working with students, and still studying about learning because I think it’s absolutely fascinating!

As my students know, I have insisted on basic fact fluency, even when that skill was not emphasized by our curriculum or by administrators. Recent research confirms what many of us have always known…one cannot excel in math without fluency in basic facts.

I want to share with you some reasons why fluency matters.

You might be thinking…

Why All The Fuss About Basic Facts? My Child Can Figure Them Up Just Fine.

Some teachers and parents are fine with students ‘figuring out’ the answers to basic math facts as they work–as long as the child understands the concepts involved in the calculations. True, most of the time students can come up with the correct answer.

But what an inefficient way to work! To excel in math, fluency in basic facts is a prerequisite.
math facts fluency is a prerequisite

The Benefits Of Basic Facts Fluency For Your Child

Basic fact fluency will make a difference in these areas:

  • Fluency frees the child to concentrate on the process in problem-solving.
  • Fractions and operations on fractions make sense because the child can easily recognize how the number components in fractions relate to each other.
  • Whether numbers are prime or composite is easily understood, and the child can see why knowing those identities is useful.
  • Calculations of large numbers is much more accurate.

Neuroscientists know that only one thinking process happens in the brain at a time. On the other hand, students are able to effortlessly recall memorized facts without interruption to the thinking process.

How Basic Fact Fluency And “Figuring It Up” Plays Out

math fact fluency vs figuring it up

Here is an example of a problem that a student might need to solve and how fluency in basic facts makes a difference.

Mario and his brother need a total of 48 action figures to play a game. Mario has 5 sets with 6 action figures in each. His brother has 4 sets with 5 action figures in each. Do they have enough to play their game?
If no, how many more action figures do they need?
If yes, how many action figures will not be used?

Even though there are several steps to solving this problem, a student with command of basic facts will solve it in cognitive leaps.

How a student fluent in basic facts might solve the problem:

She can tell you in a few seconds that 2 action figures will not be used.

In less time than it will take me to state it, her thinking might go something like this: 30, 20, 50, 48, 2.

This student’s brain is focusing on the steps in solving this problem. She does not have to think about the calculations because she has those basic facts stored in her brain, ready for retrieval.

How a student “figuring it up” might solve the problem:

On the other hand, a student who has to figure out each step must physically go through 6 steps. The very real possibility exists that she will have to reread the problem between steps to re-establish where she was. And without writing down each calculation, the answers to each step will likely be forgotten.

Her thinking might go something like this:

  1. How many action figures does Mario have? (5 x 6)
    • That’s 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30
  2. How many action figures does his brother have? (4 x 5)
    • That’s 4, 8, 12, 16, 20
  3. How many action figures do they have altogether? (30 + 20 = 50)
    • Some kids would even count up from 30 to 50!!!
    • Some would add 3 + 2 on their fingers and add a zero in one’s place.
    • Some would think, “Twenty is 2 tens, so 30 + 10 is 40, and 40 + 10 is 50.”
  4. Is 50 less than or greater than 48? (greater)
  5. What’s the difference? (50 – 48)
    • 48…. 49, 50 (two fingers)
  6. There will be 2 action figures not used.

You can see that automaticity or fluency in basic facts frees the brain to solve problems instead of having to stop the problem-solving process to perform simple calculations.

Even though every student should be able to verbalize those steps, what a difference fluency makes! The difference in these two problem-solving approaches, however, has nothing to do with intelligence–it has to do with instruction that has fluency as its goal. Without fluency as a foundational skill, as part of a student’s math tool kit, we can expect plodding instead of soaring.


Just as students benefit from learning tools, teachers benefit from planning tools.

We have put together a Blueprint for Learning that you can download and keep close to your planning desk. It’s a handy reference, reminding you of basic teaching/learning principles and how different learning activities fit into the taxonomy of skills…helping you open the door and release your learner to SOAR.

Achieve Fluency
With 7 Easy Principles.

Fluency is so critical to your child's math success that we created a blueprint for you. 

Download it FREE today to get started.

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