How My Daughter Turned into Skye Penderwick

Or how my maths hater became a mathematician who loves playing with numbers.

I know you’ll find the quotes in this post hard to believe. “She’s making that up,” you’ll say. But I wouldn’t do that. Everything in this post is absolutely true!
Sophie, Gemma-Rose and I have been working our way through Bill Handley’s book, Teach Your Children Tables. In my post More on Times Tables, I promised to report back, to let you know how we are getting on.
The book claims a child can master the tables in half an hour. Is that true? Yes. A child can’t memorise them in half an hour, but she can certainly learn a quick and easy strategy for working them out.
I showed Gemma-Rose how to work out the answers to such problems as 8 X 7. I then wrote a number of problems in an exercise book for her, and she went off to solve them… and got them all right.
“Can I have some more, Mum?” Gemma-Rose solved the next lot and thrust the book at me for another set of multiplications… and another. There are only so many combinations of the basic times tables so I found myself repeating questions. I am sure this quote from the book is correct:
Does this replace learning your tables? No, it replaces the method of learning your tables. After you have calculated 8 times 7 equals 56 or 13 times 14 equals 182 a dozen times or more, you stop doing the calculation; you remember the answer. This is much more enjoyable than constantly repeating your tables.

“Morning tea time! That’s enough for today,” I announced, and Gemma-Rose moaned, “But I want to do more maths!” (Yes, it really is true!)
“If you are good, I’ll give you some more problems later,” I said. I was only joking but Gemma-Rose gave me a huge smile and said, “I’ll be good!” (I don’t usually bribe my children to be good.)
Sophie already knows her times tables so we have moved ahead in the book to work out how to do more complicated multiplications quickly, and even in our heads. Working out such problems as 97 X 99 is absolutely simple. Even I can work that out in a few seconds without resorting to a calculator or even paper and pencil.
The second claim on the front of my copy of Teach Your Children Tables says: Improve thinking skills. Yes, we are doing lots of thinking and yes, it is possible to work out complicated problems in our heads by thinking carefully.

The third claim says: Boost confidence and self-esteem.  I keep hearing such things as:

“I wonder if the big girls can work out these problems in their heads.” (They can’t and Sophie can, which pleases her immensely.)
“Can we do some more maths, Mum? I can do these problems!”
“Mum is teaching us how to do multiplications such as 95 X 95 in our heads. The answer is 9025. It’s so much fun.” (Written in a letter to a friend.)
“I think I’m turning into Skye Penderwick!” (A character in the Penderwick series who enjoys working out complicated maths problems just for fun.)
Yesterday, we learnt a simple method to check our answers.
I often tell my students it is not enough to calculate an answer to a problem in mathematics; you haven’t finished until you have checked you have the right answer.

So Sophie worked out her multiplications and then she checked them all herself. What power!

We still have so much to learn. There are more chapters to work through. But when we’ve finished…
“Mum, did you know there are more maths books written by the same person?”
“Yes. I’ll buy one when we’ve finished this one.”
Sophie smiles. She can’t wait. She now regards herself as a mathematician.
One last claim: Make learning fun!

“Mum, maths is so much fun!” It seems that claim is really true.
And if you are wondering if the quotes from my children are really true, try the book out on your own children and see what they say.
Teach Your Children Tablesby Bill Handley available from Amazon as a Kindle ebook.or as a paperback book from Fishpond.
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    • Amy R
    • July 28, 2012

    Sue, how old are your children are who becoming mathematicians before your eyes? (I'm thinking, I have GOT to get this book!)

    1. Reply


      Gemma-Rose is 8 and Sophie is 11. Bill Handley suggests parents learn alongside their children. I have felt excited by what I can do using the strategies in this book! I've still got more to learn and I need to practise, especially doing problems in my head. Why do children find it so easy to imagine numbers and manipulate them in their heads, while I find it so difficult to keep the numbers in my mind?

      I bought this book some time ago and never got around to using it with my older children. Probably I didn't take the time to try it out. I just looked and never said, "Let's give this a go!"

      If you buy a copy, let me know what you think.

    • Amy R
    • July 28, 2012

    I had a chance to show Anne your post. She sighed, Mom just read it! No time to waste – the Olympics are on. Anyway, she got the gist of it, felt inspired by your story and said, Get me that book!

    So I did!

    1. Reply


      You can't interrupt the Olympics!! Maths can wait, even for mathematicians. I hope your daughter enjoys the book.

  1. Reply

    It's a really good book, Sue. We haven't got far, yet, but Bethany picked up the first stage straight away and I picked up the double digit numbers easily, too. And, I'm interested in the other books, now, as well. It makes so much sense!

    1. Reply


      I'm glad you are enjoying the book. Sometimes we read recommended books and wonder what all the fuss is about! I'm going to look at the other books too, but one book at a time. That's my problem: I usually rush ahead without spending enough time on what I have already bought.

  2. Reply

    Cute story and makes me want to get that book! I have a Mental Maths video that my teenager and I watched last year that had some cool multiplying tricks. We need to watch it again as I think we've forgotten most of the methods : ).

    1. Reply


      Reading this book, and trying out the techniques, I realised I'm not much good at mental maths. Sophie is a whizz at it though! She has really gained in confidence as she's worked through the exercises. I know I will improve too with more practice. I haven't seen any mental maths videos. I bet it is very impressive, watching someone actually demonstrating the techniques.

      Thank you for your comment!

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