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What is Mental Math?

Jan-04, 2021

A young boy sits at a desk in a classroom counting on his fingers.

Quick! What's 4 times 4?

16? That's right! Now, how did you come to that solution? Did you perform the equation in your head, 4+4+4+4? Or did you just know the right answer? That's an example of mental math, and we use it every day, from telling time, to making payments, to reading recipes. Math is all around us, and the sooner we pick up these mental math skills, the easier it is to master more complex equations.

So, what exactly is "mental math?" Mental math refers to the math we do in our head, simple calculations we've memorized so that we do not need a pencil and paper or calculator to tabulate the correct answer. Metal math can also help us break down more complex equations into smaller amounts for faster calculation. Learning mental math strengthens both our long-term memory and our working memory. A strong working memory helps children stay on task and organized, like an imaginary notepad.

Developing mental math skills begins at a very early age. Preschool aged children learn to identify numerical symbols, 0-9, as well as begin to develop their number sense, to understand what these symbols represent. As children progress in their education, their mental math expands to basic addition and subtraction, multiplication and division of 0-12, fraction to decimal conversion, etc. Each concept builds on itself to expand the child's knowledge bank.

Beyond fostering important life skills, developing strong mental math is essential to progressing through a child's education. The sooner your child can stop counting on their fingers and do simple calculations in their head, the sooner they can move on to more complex problems. An accelerated learning program should incorporate mental math training to keep kids on track!

So, how can you encourage mental math in the home? Here are some suggestions!

  • Food and cooking: From counting out scoops to dividing pizzas and pies, the kitchen is full of math! Utilize timers and the clock, scale up or down recipes, count out ingredients, and divide portions. Cooking and baking with your kids make math a treat!
  • Toys and games: Who says math can't be fun? Count toys as part of clean up, use Lego blocks to teach geometry concepts, and play board and dice games to reinforce math concepts. 3-2-1-FUN!
  • Music and dance: Rhythm is how our bodies make math! Count out the beats in your kid's favorite songs, incorporate clapping, and copy dances from music videos or Tik Tok. Music and dance have a way of ingraining math into your child's heart.

These are just a few ideas for you to explore. Want more help? Connect with real math teachers to support your child's educational journey.

Study Habits to Try During COVID-19

Nov-23, 2020

child studying, girl reading, at home learning, distance learning

By now, it's become apparent that COVID-19 has negatively impacted the academic progress of our kids. While this impact has not yet been quantified, it can certainly be estimated. We already know how decreased instruction, absenteeism, and the so-called "summer slide" can all delay progress. Because of COVID-19 and distance learning, all of these factors have compounded, on top of added emotional stress and a de-emphasis on hands-on, inquiry-based learning that happens in the classroom. As a collection of educators, we are always looking for new ways to offer help for your kids. To that effect, we're profiling 3 study techniques which improve performance, so that you can try them in your household to see if they have a positive impact on your child's education. Let's get started!

The Pomodoro Technique

A favorite method of designers, developers, and other creative types, the Pomodoro Technique increases productivity by balancing work and breaks on a schedule. It's no wonder, then, that its creator, Francesco Cirillo, is a developer himself. The method is named after the Italian word for tomato, pomodoro, since as a college student, Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to keep him focused on his school work. His method is simple; break up your work, whether it be writing, reading, studying, or any other task, with short breaks. Here's a step-by-step guide:

  • Choose a task to be accomplished, like a worksheet or a reading chapter.
  • Set a timer to 25 minutes. This 25-minute sprint is called a Pomodoro.
  • Work on the task until the timer goes off.
  • Take a short break, about 5 minutes.
  • Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break, about 15-30 minutes.

Now, since this method is generally used during an 8-hour work day, not a 2-3-hour homework or study session, feel free to adjust your child's Pomodoros accordingly. Also, remember that any distractions which interrupt the Pomodoro reset the timer. So, if your child is 10 minutes in and request a snack break, the Pomodoro resets when they finish eating, it doesn't keep running. And, best practice is to run a little over time if a task is almost completed, like finishing the last page of reading or the last few questions on a homework page before starting the break. The goal of the Pomodoro method is to keep the child focused and not overwhelm them.

The Testing Method

This technique is used to retain information. At its core, the method is very simple, requiring students to test themselves periodically on information that they are learning. Employing this method works best for students when their homework is not interactive, such are reading long passages in textbooks or works of fiction. The Testing Method was developed by researchers Karpicke and Blunt in 2011 by testing various methods of memory retention. Interestingly, this method found that reading a passage twice as much was less effective at retaining the knowledge than reading the passage less times, but testing the subjects to recall the knowledge directly after reading.

So, how can your child implement the Testing Method in their studies? Like the Pomodoro Technique, this method is time based. Break the study session into 5-minute periods of reading, and 10-minute periods of writing. Read each passage twice before moving on. In the writing portions, the student should try to recall everything that they read in the passage, and challenge themselves to remember more the second time than the first. If your child reads their assigned work over and over and over again but can't seem to retain the information, then the Testing Method is definitely for them!

Spaced Repetition

We've explored before how forgetting is built into the human brain, and is actually essential for lifelong learning. The more we hear something, the more likely we are to remember it, as our brains recognize it as important information for us to retain. This learning concept has many other names, such as spaced rehearsal, expanding rehearsals, graduated intervals, repetition spacing, spaced/expanded retrieval, or repetition scheduling, but they all refer to the same method. The goal of spaced repetition is to retain knowledge by repeating the information to engrain the knowledge in our brains. To do this, a schedule must be created. Some curriculums have spaced repetition built in. If not, you can implement a schedule, of which there are many and are created by various companies.

Like the Testing Method, spaced repetition involved recalling information throughout the learning phase. First, take notes on what you are trying to memorize. Flash cards can also be used. This should be done within a day of initial studying. Then, try to recall the information in a non-study environment, such as when taking a walk, listening to music, or playing. Repeat this process daily, and after several days, study the original material again. Daily practice will lead to retention!

We hope that the above methods will help your child as they deal with distance learning during COVID-19. Parents of Best Brains students will notice that we utilize many of these methods within our unique curriculum. That's one of the reasons we have been so successful over the years, and why our students are academically achieving during this pandemic. If your child could benefit from these methods, you can join our Math and English programs anytime!

Brain Food to Keep Your Child Focused

Oct-19, 2020

brain food, salmon, brocolli, nuts and berries, chalkboard, healthy eating, food for kids

As busy parents, it's easy to overlook the power of food on our kids. Grocery stores are full of snacks aimed at kids, with colorful packaging, small portions, and easy accessibility. But by and large, these snack options offer little more than a quick carbohydrate boost, and any nutritional value is added, not inherent to the food item itself. For every boost there comes a crash, causing crankiness and a lack of focus. In fact, there is evidence that a lower sugar diet for children can actually increase mental focus. Let's take a closer look at the relationship between food, metabolism, and brain power.

An Ever-Changing Metabolism

From the moment they are born, the metabolism of children is constantly changing. Since babies only start ingesting food after birth, it can take up to a year for their bodies to become accustomed to the practice. After that, babies transition gradually from a diet of milk to a balance of water and solids. This, combined with the increased mobility that comes from learning to crawl, walk, and talk, means that active toddlers require a steady stream of calories to fuel their curiosity! High fat foods are ideal for this stage, as they contain the most calories per gram, and therefore are the best source of energy for a small body to digest.

Not only do toddlers need certain foods as fuel, but also as the building blocks of their growing bodies. A high fat, low fiber diet helps them to build a strong brain and nervous system, and a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables represented sets up a healthy immune system. Older toddlers up to age 5 do require more carbohydrates than young toddlers, but beware of sugars! Look for more complex carbohydrates like biscuits, tortillas, and bread to provide energy without the spike/crash that sugar provides.

Food for Focus!

As children enter school age, creating a meal plan which emphasizes foods known for their benefits to focus, memory retention, and mood can help them from morning to night. Let's look at some brain foods perfect for your elementary schooler!

  • Eggs: Delicious for any meal, eggs contain protein and nutrients essential for concentration. Plus, eggs pair well with complex carbohydrates, like in a breakfast taco or in egg salad with pita chips for dipping. Plus, their pleasant texture and mild flavor mean lots of potential to add the seasonings your kids love the most, whether that be Italian herbs, Indian spices, or even a little squirt of ketchup!
  • Apples and plums: While all fruits are good for our kids, apples and plums contain an antioxidant called quercetin, which specifically fights decline in mental skills. Does your child have a hard time focusing around 3pm? Consider an apple and peanut butter break to get them back on track – skin on!
  • Oatmeal: We're always praising the power of oatmeal here at Best Brains! This is one incredible brain food, for sure. Not only is eating oatmeal amazing for your health, it also helps kids who eat it for breakfast out-perform their sugary cereal-eating peers. Plus, cinnamon, a common spice used in oatmeal, can also have positive effects on the brain.

Brain Food for All Ages and Stages

As children age and begin to be more adventurous with their eating, you can start to branch out when choosing their brain food. Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish have several benefits to brain function. Broccoli, while difficult for the palates of little children, can help prevent certain diseases as well as boost brain function, along with other vegetables like bok choy, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.

While there are many supplements on the market purported to boost brain function, there is no substitute for getting these nutrients directly from diet. Unless directed by a doctor due to a diagnosed deficiency, reach for the real thing, not a pill.

Looking for some brain-boosting recipes to start your child's day right? We have the solution for you!

Improving Concentration Skills

Sep-07, 2020

learning at home, girl and mother, learning to read, elearning, stay at home learning

As a parent, you have probably struggled in the past to focus your child's attention. While children can be very intensely focused on one thing at a time, their attention tends to wander from activity to activity. This can prove extremely difficult when trying to convey information or when conducting education. Forcing a child to concentrate beyond their attention span can lead to fights, tears, and lots of frustration from all parties involved.

According to child development experts, children tend to be able to focus their attention for between 2-5 minutes per year of age. This means that a 3-year-old attempting to begin to learn their letters and numbers will only be capable of focusing on a task between 6 and 15 minutes at a time. While this can at first seem very inadequate, what's important to remember is the at-a-time aspect. That is, just because your child can only focus on practicing their letter shapes in short bursts, it doesn't make them incapable of learning throughout the day. We just need to adjust our thinking and our approach to learning!

The first step is integrating learning in different ways. Approaching the same concept from multiple angles keeps the learning fresh and exciting for a young child. Are they tired of trying to trace the letter A? Let's get up and go on a letter A scavenger hunt around the house! Incorporate counting into snack time. Can you count to 10? Then that's how many grapes you get! Have a queue of short learning videos prepared on YouTube or a children's album loaded in the CD player or downloaded into your phone. Let your child lead you in their own education. As we've discussed before, kids want to participate and be helpful, so make them feel as if they're doing a great job!

Another way to keep your child focused and to improve their attention spans is to learn their rhythms. Firstly, make sure your kids are getting the recommended amount of sleep and rest so that they are fully capable to focus without yawning or dozing off. Next, keep track of your child's energy levels. If they crash after lunch or go into a 3 p.m. mania, don't force them to sit at the desk and count. Take advantage of the quiet time to teach behavioral skills or demonstrate caring with stuffed animals they share a bed or nap area with. Dance around with your kids when they're bursting with energy. By mirroring your child in this way, you are supporting their feelings, helping them listen to their body, and making the most out of every day by taking full advantage of the times when they are calm, focused, and alert.

Lastly, once you are determined your child's rhythms and patterns, start to construct a schedulearound it and begin to enforce it. It's never too early to learn to be responsible, and having a set plan for what you expect your child to do throughout the day will help you both stay focused. Communicate often, and help your kids understand more complicated concepts like planning ahead and delayed gratification. As your child ages, they will grow into being responsible and managing themselves by following your example.

Here at Best Brains, we believe in listening to our students and following their lead. Our one-concept-at-a-time curriculum is designed to maximize your child's attention span and present learning in a way that is best for them. Click here to learn more!

Tags Study Tips

Making Reading Fun

Jan-16, 2019

English Letters

Photo Credit: Jason Leung on Unsplash

We all want our children to enjoy their education. Of course, there are also lots of critical life skills we need them to learn, whether they enjoy it or not. However, nothing has to be boring. Children are wired to have fun. By approaching basic skills like reading as an opportunity to explore the world and have fun at the same time, we can invite our children to be excited about learning new things.

At its most basic, reading is just recognizing the words we see and being able to say them out loud. There are opportunities to practice this everywhere we go. A great way to make reading fun and challenge children to learn new words is to incorporate it into their favorite activities. If you think about it, you do lots of reading for your children whenever you are interacting with them. You read for them at the grocery story, when looking at the tv guide, even when picking out their clothing. These are all activities your children would love to be more involved in.

For example, if you take your child to the grocery store, you can let them help you pick out the products you need by reading the labels on the package. This doesn’t have to mean reading complicated ingredient lists. It could be as simple as “Which package of pudding is plain and which is vanilla?” Or you can make a game where your child gets to buy any one snack they want if they can read the words on the package. The idea is to teach your child that being good at reading has rewards.

Another option is to put your young reader in charge of information about her activities. When coaches and teachers send home information about games and field trips, tell your child that she needs to read it to you so that you know what it says. Chances are she will already know what it is about and be excited to share it with you. This is the perfect opportunity to motivate her to sound out words and really make an effort. She knows that when she gets the words right, you’ll sign and she can go on the field trip.

Finally, keep an open mind about the kinds of things your child enjoys reading in the beginning. Children don’t start out reading whole books. It may be street signs or cereal boxes that they get excited to sound out. Keep an eye out for what they gravitate to and encourage this behavior. When you know what piques their interest, you can provide additional opportunities for them to challenge themselves.

The key is to remember that reading doesn’t have to be a grind. Children will be excited to learn new things. If you encourage that excitement by providing fun opportunities to practice, you can raise children who see reading as a passport to new and expanding adventures, rather than a chore.

For more information on encouraging good reading habits, or for support with reading instruction, contact Best Brains at (847) 485-000 or visit

Activities for Well-Rounded Kids

Dec-17, 2018

Rounded colorful Pencils

Photo Credit : salvatore ventura on Unsplash

These days kids have access to all kinds of activities. If they wanted to, children could have a full-time job just doing all the extra-curricular activities available to them. Of course, there isn’t enough time for kids to participate in all the things they might like to do. So how do you and your kids decide which activities and clubs are best? Here are some ideas for choosing activities that will help your child develop a well-rounded personality.

Get Physical

Some children love physical activity and would love to play all the sports. Others have no interest in running or jumping. In either case, physical activity is an important part of our overall health. You should encourage a child who is looking for a new pastime to explore a sport or other physical skill. Children can play sports, do yoga, take dance lessons, or do any number of other activities to get moving and make friends. Best of all, they’ll learn valuable lessons about building a strong healthy body and the importance of taking physical care of themselves.

Be Creative

If your child is already involved in a sport and wants to be more active, you can encourage them to explore a creative outlet. Perhaps their school has an art club. Or maybe there are painting classes at the local library. In many cases, young people have creative interests that they can pursue on their own. For instance, if your son has expressed an interest in learning to sew, encourage him to check out some YouTube videos or online tutorials for beginners. If your daughter wants to learn to draw, there are lots of resources online that she can use to build her skills in her spare time. Your child can build their own play tent as a creative endeavor and to make a special place in the home for activities. Because creative activities use different parts of the brain than typical intellectual activities, you’ll be building your children’s capacity to think in new and interesting ways.

Think Outside the Classroom

Students spend plenty of time doing science, math, and history in school. However, for students who have a special interest in these subjects, there are additional opportunities to pursue their intellectual passions. Debate club and Model U.N. are ideal activities for students who love to think and engage deeply on serious questions. Math and science clubs are great places to explore an interest in space or chemistry. Perhaps your child’s school has a robotics club where they can learn to build machines and even participate in competitions. Learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom.

The trick is to mix and match activities so that children are exposed to lots of different skills and possibilities. Often, young people don’t know what they’ll love until they try it. You’ll never know if your son loves painting until he picks up a paintbrush. The more you can expose young people to, the better chance they’ll have to uncover what they truly love. And along the way, they’ll learn to appreciate all the different passions they possess.