Some parts of math need to be explained and understood. I have found plenty of hands-on ways to explain some math concepts. I taught my kids what multiplication was by using blocks or cheerios or other manipulatives. We worked out word problems so that they could understand why you multiply 3x4 if each child in our family has four cookies.
At some point, however, the fun part of multiplication took a backseat to the drudgery. To move on from simple one-digit multiplication, children really need to be able to just remember the basic facts. Math basically became memorization focused for a few weeks (or longer) -- lots of flashcards, math drills, and practice pages, not much problem solving or fun.
City Creek Press has found a way to make the memorization job both more fun and more effective. Their Times Alive computer program uses several approaches to learning a new multiplication fact. Visual learners will learn from the memorable graphics, and auditory learners will learn from the catchy songs. The stories and songs use funny number shaped objects/creatures to illustrate a funny scene that leads to the answer. For instance, two sixes walk across the desert and start searching for water. They are very thirsty sixes (36). I know it's a corny joke, but it does help you remember the equation. That's why this program works -- it helps you remember.
Times Alive starts with the easy multiplication facts (multiplication times 0 and 1). Afterwards it moves on to the facts that are a bit harder to remember. Each fact is covered in a lesson with a story and then a corresponding song. At the end of the story and again after the song, the student is prompted to enter the correct numbers in the multiplication equation. After every few facts, there is a review section with about 10 problems to answer.
This program is ideal for students that are just learning their multiplication facts -- either homeschoolers or ones in school. Both of my older students already know their multiplication facts well. Brennan worked through the Times Alive program, but it was mostly an enjoyable review for him. I'm not sure it improved his speed; the program seems to be designed more for initial learning than for the continued practice needed for a child to have quick recall of the facts
Interestingly, Lauren (just turned five) has listened to Brennan working with the program, and she's started singing some of the songs. One of her favorites is a cheer that goes, "1, 2, 3, 4! I like math, let's do some more!" She can even tell you that three times four is twelve. I found a video of that song to share as a sample of the program.
If you'd like to see more samples, City Creek Press has several on their youtube channel here.
The Times Alive software is available for either download ($44.95, available for Mac or Windows systems) or on CD ($48.95). They also offer a book ($19.95), workbooks, activity sheets, and cue cards. Similar products are available for addition, but there isn't a comparable software program for addition facts.
I'd highly recommend this program for children that are trying to master their times tables. I'm going to make sure I have it when Lauren reaches that point several years from now.