An article in the Conversation stopped me in my tracks a couple of days ago with this observation: when primary school students know times-tables by rote, they free up mental resources to deal with more complex arithmetic.
Arithmetic is not mathematics, and my son, who is shocking at mental arithmetic, is happy about this. But much learning for many people involves concrete examples, which brings us back to arithmetic. And the joy of math for young kids means numerical answers a lot of the time.
I thought about this. I have been too dismissive of arithmetic. I have been too dismissive of rote learning.
Kids who know times tables get benefits. Their confidence improves. They are perceived as being more able, which has its own benefits. I have a done a 180 on this, and I will now rote-teach my two kids their times tables as an urgent matter. My son loves doing his spelling lists each week, which is also rote learning. I can’t speak for every education system in the West, but I amaze myself by concluding that in my school system, we have got the balance wrong on this.