Of all the math operations, multiplication and division may be the hardest for kids to learn. Tackling these skills is the logical next step after addition and subtraction. But it’s really more of a leap for most kids.
Find out when kids learn to multiply and divide, and how to help your child improve these math skills.
When kids usually learn multiplication
Learning to multiply can begin as early as second grade. Kids usually start with adding equal groups together (3 + 3 + 3 = 9, which is the same as 3 × 3 = 9). This is called repeated addition.
Here’s how and when kids learn to multiply:
In second grade, kids learn to visualize repeated addition. (Like drawing a square with five rows and five columns to represent 5 × 5 = 25.)
In third grade, kids start to recognize the connection between multiplication and division. (Like knowing that 3 × 4 = 12, and 12 ÷ 4 = 3.)
In fourth grade, kids begin multiplying two-digit numbers by two-digit numbers.
Most kids know how to use the common procedure for multiplying large numbers by the end of fifth grade. Some may need a little more time and practice to fully understand the concept. But if a child is really struggling, it’s a good time to take a closer look at why.
When kids usually learn division
Division is typically the hardest math concept for kids to learn. A division equation is made up of three parts:
The dividend is the number that’s being divided (the first number in the problem).
The divisor is the number the dividend is being divided by (the second number in the problem.)
The quotient is the number of times the divisor will go into the dividend (the solution).
Learning to divide starts in third grade. Kids are introduced to the concept by doing repeated subtraction. (Like 20 – 5, then another 5, and another 5, and one more 5. It’s the same as 20 ÷ 4.)
Here’s how and when kids learn to divide:
In third grade, kids begin dividing by repeated subtraction. They learn to divide two digits by one-digit numbers with solutions greater than 10.
In fourth grade, kids begin learning how to divide four-digit numbers by single-digit numbers. (Like 4,000 ÷ 2.)
In fifth grade, kids begin dividing four-digit numbers by four-digit numbers. (Like 8,000 ÷ 4,000.) Also, most kids are introduced to decimals in fifth grade.
Kids are expected to fully understand how to multiply and divide before moving on to middle school. But that doesn’t mean every child will understand by that time. Some kids need more time and practice to better understand.
Why some kids struggle with multiplication and division
It’s not uncommon for kids to have trouble with math — especially multiplication and division. And there are many reasons for that.
For example, some kids have trouble understanding basic math concepts, known as number sense. Trouble with focus or with memory can impact learning math. So can anxiety.
There are ways to help when a child is struggling with math. For some kids, extra support in school, like separate instruction or even learning in a smaller group, can make a difference over time.
Struggling with multiplication and division, like any skill, can be frustrating for kids. It can lower their confidence and make them want to avoid learning new math concepts. It can also make them feel like they’re not smart.
Be sure to praise your child for working at these new skills. And let your child know there are ways to get better at math.