Third-graders in my daughter's classroom aren't just expected to know that 7+9 equals 16; they also have to be able to come up with the answer pronto during math drills. "Memorization becomes an important skill in second and third grade," says Kristen Merrell, an elementary-school teacher in Lee's Summit, Missouri. "Although it's important that your child understand the concept, she has to know some basics off the top of her head so she can move on to more advanced work." But how can you help get all this info to stick in your kid's mind? Merrell and other teachers reveal their secrets for memorizing math facts, spelling words, and science basics. Take a page from their cheat sheet!
Knowing which months have 30 days: You may have learned the rhyme, "Thirty days hath September," but many teachers prefer the knuckle method. You curl either hand into a fist. Going from left to right (ignoring your thumb), let each of your four knuckles and the grooves between them represent a month, starting with January. When you reach the last knuckle (July), jump back to the first knuckle (August) and continue. Each "knuckle" month has 31 days while the "groove" ones are 30 days long, except February.
Adding doubles: Make up a few cute rhymes like, "4 dinner + 4 lunch equals I '8' a bunch" and "6 for myself + 6 for my cousin equals 12, a dozen."
Plotting ordered pairs on a graph: Students forget whether to count horizontally or vertically first. Remind your grade-schooler that when she was little, she had to crawl (horizontally) across the floor before she could stand up (and be vertical) and walk.
Recalling units of measurement in order: Try the acronym "In Football You Measure," to help your kid remember inch, foot, yard, and mile.
Learning the 9 times table: Get the hang of this trick yourself; then teach it to your child: Holding both hands in front of you, number the digits from left to right so the left pinkie is 1. Then bend down the finger you want to multiply by -- so if you're multiplying 9x4, bend down the fourth finger. The fingers to the left of the turned-down finger are the "tens" digit of the answer (3), and the fingers to the right are the "ones" digit of the answer (6).
Remembering when I comes first: Teach your kid the classic phrase you learned, but add a twist at the end: "I before E except after C, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh. Of course, there are exceptions. Weird is just weird." And try these lines to help your child avoid getting tripped up on how to spell friend (A friend is someone who will stay with you to the "end") and believe (Do you believe a "lie?").
Avoiding trouble with like-sounding words: To help your student figure out how to distinguish between the words there and their, tell him that the location "there" has a place in it ("here") while the possessive "their" has a person in it (the letter i). For hear and here, try this phrase: Here is a place, like there and where, while you hear with your ear."
Memorizing tricky words: For separate, tell your child there's "a rat" inside. Use the acronym "Big elephants can always understand small elephants" to help her remember because. And to spell the word success, suggest that she "double the c, double the s, and she'll have success."
Learning the planets: Teach your child this acronym to help her remember the names of the planets in order: "My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos." (Remember, Pluto is no longer considered one of the main planets; instead it's one of more than 40 "dwarf planets" in the solar system.)
Understanding how to read the symbols on a map: For the compass directions, teach your child this acronym: "Never Eat Soggy Waffles." To avoid confusion between longitude and latitude, mention that "Longitude (north-south) has an "N" like north. Lat is fat because it goes around the equator belt."
Understanding the weather: Tell your child to recite this clever rhyme a few times: "When pressure is high, expect a blue sky. When pressure is low, expect rain or snow."
Recalling animal classifications: The acronym "My Best Friend's Really Awesome" can help your child remember these five major classifications: mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Parents magazine.