The Math Trick Every Kid Should Know

by Amy Nielson
Originally Published: 
A girl improving her math skills with her teacher

Do you have painful memories from childhood of sitting at the kitchen table, mindlessly shuffling through flashcards, pretending like you were trying to memorize them so you could finally go outside and play with your friends? Well, I’ve been there, and it was awful. For me, memorizing multiplication tables was the Mount Everest of elementary school, so when my 8-year-old daughter came home singing them one day, without a single flashcard session, I was shocked and a bit envious.

How was this even possible? Somehow, she had not only learned all of her multiplication tables from 1 to 12, but she was having fun doing it. From somewhere deep inside of me, an anguish that she had not suffered nearly enough for this accomplishment began to rise, but I got over it quickly when I realized I wouldn’t have to suffer through making her learn them.

I begged for her secret, and like most young children, she was more than happy to give it up. Her male teacher, whom she had a major crush on, had taught them to skip-count to simple nursery rhyme tunes that they already knew. The strings of random numbers that would have taken forever to memorize on their own were now as easy to recall as the words to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” This was magic.

Over the next few months, I would watch her at the table, leaning over her math homework, pausing to sing a quick song in her head while using her fingers to keep track of the number she was multiplying by. She never forgot any, and she got so fast I had to practice just to keep up with her and avoid the humiliation of not being smarter than my third grader.

By the time my second daughter reached third grade, I was completely sold. We sang these songs while we did dishes, we belted them out during carpool trips to gymnastics, and we sang them at the table during homework time. My 5-year-old knows most of them, and even my 3-year-old can make his way through a few. In fact, it is entirely possible that the only words he knows to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” are the multiples of seven. Does that make us weird? Probably, but I can live with that.

Of course, I shared the good news about this math trick with all of my friends and family. I told them which tunes to sing with which multiples, but making them fit correctly to the tune, without the benefit of hearing it, was not going well for most of them. When they mentioned this to me, I did what any good parent would. I decided to have my daughter star on YouTube. Okay, “star” may be a bit of a stretch, but she helped me create videos of each of the songs and pair them with simple animations.

We decided to share them with as many people as we could in hopes that it would save trees from becoming flashcards, save parents and children from hating each other over homework, and basically save the entire planet. Here are our seven “Skip Counting” videos:

Skip Counting By 3s: “Where is Thumbkin”

Skip Counting by 4s: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”

Skip Counting by 6s: “London Bridge Is Falling Down”

Skip Counting by 7s: “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

Skip Counting by 8s: “This Old Man”

Skip Counting by 9s: “Ten Little Indians”

Skip Counting by 12s: “Jingle Bells”

This article was originally published on