Children dramatically improve accuracy on math homework and math tests when good math habits replace bad math habits. Some mistakes happen because of a lack of understanding, but mistakes in accuracy usually happen because of a bad habit. Some people call them “careless,” “silly,” “dumb,” or even “stupid” mistakes, but we don’t use those terms at Mathnasium of Parker. We just say those are mistakes born from poor habits.

**How Better Math Habits Will Improve Achievement**

Just by replacing these 4 bad habits with better habits, your child’s math accuracy will improve. Accuracy in math is important because even small mistakes create big challenges. In school, these mistakes lead to wrong answers, lowered math grades, and lowered math confidence.

**How to Replace Bad Habits with Better Habits**

You might think that accuracy mistakes are the easiest math issue to fix, but changing habits is NOT easy. If you have ever tried to change a habit, like changing your diet, you know changing a bad habit requires dedication and support. Changing math habits are just as difficult.

If your child is making mistakes in accuracy, see if they have any of these four bad habits. Then, support them as they replace those habits with better habits. At Mathnasium of Parker, we will do our part in the center to help, too!

**Bad Habit #1: **Not aligning numbers when writing a problem

Our base 10 number system uses the position of each numeral to show quantity. 304 is different than 34. So when adding 8 to 304, the 8 must line up under the 4 (the ones place). Otherwise you might get the answer of 1104 or 384 instead of 312.

**Better habit:** Write math problems precisely and line numbers up carefully. Graph paper with 1 inch squares helps young children pay more attention to number alignment. Older students can use 1/2 or 1/4 inch squares.

For more on information on place value please read:

· Understanding Place Value and Base Ten Counting

· The Number Zero

· Manipulatives Help Kids Understand Math Concepts

**Bad Habit #2 **Not writing down steps and failing to label units

We often see this bad habit with children who have strong mental math skills. Don’t get us wrong - we want our students to have strong mental math skills! We just want them to develop habits that will improve their accuracy. The more complex the math problem, the more important writing down each step becomes. And labeling is ALWAYS important!

**Better habit**: Write the steps taken to derive the answer and label parts of equations. Imagine a test problem such as:

“*There were two drums of gasoline. One drum had 30 gallons and one drum had 45 gallons. 5 tanks needed fuel. How many gallons of gas could each tank have if they shared equally?”*

A child with poor habits in labeling and writing steps, might only write “75/5= 15.”

A better way would be to write “30 gallons +40 gallons=75 gallons total. “75 gallons/5 tanks= 15 gallons per tank.”

Taking the time to write steps and label units slows down children’s thinking enough to catch many accuracy errors before they are made. Errors are easier to find, when they do make one, because they have a record of their thinking. Instead of redoing the whole problem, they can just look at each step to see where they went wrong. Writing the steps and labeling feels tedious to many children, but it will make a huge difference in their accuracy.

For more on information on mental math and complex math problems please read:

· 3 Benefits of Mental Math

· How to Develop Strong Mental Math Skills

· Is Your Child Dependent on Algorithms…and is that a Bad Thing?

· Solving Math Problems Strategically

**Bad Habit #3 **Only reading the problem once

Math is like a foreign language and it has its own symbols. Understanding how to “read” a math problem requires a specialized set of literacy skills. Word problems use regular words that children must then “translate” into math words.

For example, in the previous math problem the student had to figure out to first add and then divide.

Translating written words to math symbols is not easy. Kids improve their math literacy skills as they get older, but the problems get much more complex, too.

**Better habit**: Encourage your children to look at a regular math problem twice, and word problems three times. Have them pay special attention to the operation symbols and words.

For more on information on the language and symbols of math please read:

· Learning Math Symbols in Elementary School Takes Time

· Confusing Math Vocabulary Frustrates Children and Parents

· The Great Tradition of Arithmetic

· Even Teenagers Benefit from Concrete Math

**Bad Habit #4**. Finishing and forgetting.

Children who do the first three better habits will decrease the number of mistakes they make, but they will still make a few. Use this last better habit to catch those lingering mistakes.

**Better habit:** After finishing, take a short break. If it is during a test, the break may only be a few seconds of closing the eyes and deep breathing. After the break, look over all the answers to verify that they make sense. If any answer doesn’t seem right, take a moment to check each step of the process.

For more on information on checking to see if an answer makes sense please read:

· Understanding Mathematical Reasoning

· How Math Concepts and Math Skills Work Together and Why You Should Care

· When are Math “Rules” Not Really Rules?

**A Final Word about Accuracy**

In real life math problems, errors in math accuracy can have huge implications. You can read about some funny and disastrous math accuracy mistakes here. https://threesixty360.wordpress.com/category/math-mistakes/

At Mathnasium of Parker, we not only teach math skills, we develop great math habits. Many of our students love getting into our “No Errors Club” or getting our “Nerd Award” for math accuracy.

Come check us out!

If you liked this article you may also like “9 Tips for Helping Your Children Make Sense of Math”

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