Sucking it up 1970s style

I wasn’t expecting to start the new year vigorously nodding my head in agreement with the government, however it seems that we have both declared that times tables are not only mandatory, and to be learned by rote but also tested.  Great minds think alike?

When I started primary school, towards the end of the 1970s, I mostly loved it.  I was one of those kids that suited school. Luck of the draw.  In spite of the vague happy feeling I have next-to-zero memories of my early learning experiences apart from reciting times tables.

My strongest memory of primary school is queuing up at break-time in a line outside the girls’ toilet block.  We had an outside toilet block that was freezing cold and generally filthy.  The caretaker had to dig a path to it when it snowed.

I was excitedly waiting to be given a yellowed and gritty crystal of rock salt that one of the older boys had excavated from the sand in the grit bin that the caretaker had omitted to shut properly after digging out and gritting the paths.

School photo. Aw, so happy! Totally high on rock salt.
Aw, so happy! Totally high on rock salt.

Loads of us, all stood behind the toilet block hiding from the adults, furtively sucking on lumps of rock salt…

Such a lovely disgusting lovely awful just-need-to-lick-it-again-even-though-I-feel-sick exotic taste.

Thinking about it, it was likely covered in fox pee.

There was a single inside toilet in the main school building that could be used under certain circumstances but if it wasn’t a) vomit-splashed or b) out of use with the floor covered in sand as an adult had realised it was vomit-splashed then c) there was always a really scary massive poo lurking somewhere, and not always in the bowl…

My other major memory is sitting in a hot infants classroom fighting against tears and my gag reflex as I tried to drink a bottle of sun-warmed curdled milk, having to sit there until we finished it even though it was completely disgusting.  Why did the milk always get left in the sun?

Looking back, we regularly had sickness bugs.

Forwards, backwards and jumping about.

How you had to know your tables according to my Mum

But before the torture of milk time  came the best part of the day – reciting times tables – I loved it! “Der Der Di-Dee, Der Der Di-Dum, Der Der Di-DoinkDoink, Der Der Di-Dinklybum…” and on it went to that lovely rhythm.

Then there were the quick fire questions to check you really knew your stuff, you weren’t just mumbling along to the theme tune. Terrifying and exhilarating, with Mum’s thorough training at home, I was totally ace at the ‘jumping about’ bit.

Knowing my times tables off by heart has definitely been one of the most useful things I learned as a child.  I couldn’t count how often I have used that mathematical reflex as an adult.

Thanks to the milk, the rock salt and the toilets, I suppose I have also benefited from mastering my gag reflex.  I can swallow most things.  Not that this talent is a significant feature in my marital life since a rather nasty jaw dislocation.

Moving on.

Whilst I am all for more progressive approaches to learning and problem solving, I see little harm in an amount of rote learning;  memorising is a useful skill itself.

Times tables rock.  I love that you can generally yell “six sixes!” at any 40+ adult and they will respond with “thirty six!” before they’ve even consciously realised you are talking to them.  It’s like the academic version of the “boo!”, another favorite past time of mine.

So far we’ve mainly taken an autonomous approach to daughter’s home education but with the caveat that, if in observation of her learning and exploration, I believe she is repeatedly hitting a point where more traditional teaching of a certain fact or skill would ameliorate her progress then it’s time to sit down and suck it up, 1970s style.

I’ve noticed many little incidents over the past few months where a times tables reflex would have been useful for daughter so for 2016 and as long as it takes, we are going to be learning them.  By rote.

Over breakfast, in the car, on a train, in the bath, whilst brushing hair, at bedtime… until we know them forwards, backwards and most importantly jumping about.  Must control excitement.

Not very interestingly, it appears that my one weak spot (seven times eight) is a common problem, shared by many people as well as myself, including George Osbourne.  Fools never differ.

12 thoughts on “Sucking it up 1970s style

  1. Despite hours of rote learning, arithmetic tests etc. I never learned mine. I know 6×6 and a few other obvious ones, but it just never stuck in my memory no matter how many times I repeated it. I strongly suspect I’m dyscalculic, as my capacity for reciting poetry is above average, but my capacity for remembering and working with numbers is appalling.


    1. Wow – that’s fascinating as I’m not sure I learned them as numbers, I almost see them as lines of poetry or song lyrics… THAT’S why I thought it was a good way to do it… Hmmm. Maybe one’s brain can’t take the numbers out of the equation (so to speak, excuse the pun!) I’m hoping there are some other comments now to see how other people have fared…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. dyscalculia is a reasonably common co-morbidity with autism, some folks fare better because of synaesthesia that’s related to numbers, so they can hook it onto another sense that they can deal with better. I don’t process auditory information well, I process written symbols better. Numbers are quite meaningless to me, they’re just symbols. They don’t make words or lines really…

        Your daughter may do better, it depends entirely on how she process and what her affinity is. Rote might do it, or she may need a different method that supports her particular flavour of brain processing.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I feel we do struggle here with maths “concepts” but do better with practicals… Daughter like her Dad has an almost instant memory for songs, sayings, (adverts!) etc so I’m hoping we can plug into that without even prescribing any “meaning” (I know when I started learning them, it was just words) and work on the meaning later… We shall see!! Hope squeak is okay, I must drop by your blog this weekend for a catch up xxxx


  2. Happy New Year! I learned my times tables by rote up to 30 x 30 (I am 2×29). We also learned poetry by heart. It stood me in good stead for learning Shakespeare! The lyrical and rythmic nature of words and phrases can be of great help. My mother was a tutor to a number of dyslexic students (in the 1960’s and 70’s) and worked with children with autism and aspergers. She always used poetry and rhyme to enable people to link to their memory faculties. Thank you for your blogs – I find them fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy New Year to you too!! Hmm… that has brought out my competitive side and I may have to move on past 12×12 now!

      My parents are teachers and my Mum commented just the other day how the ‘older generation’ can quote so much poetry and prose, something far fewer youngsters can do – she still feels it is valid “brain training”. She used some clever vocal sound patterns with me on words that I found hard to remember when little… interesting stuff.


  3. Oh Jill, I completely remember the rock salt licking by the toilets, and I also remember that it was in those very toilets that you showed me the ‘roll the (tracing paper) toilet roll around your hand to achieve a lovely 4 layer toilet paper rectangle in which to wipe your bottom technique’, which I still use to this day and have passed on to my son and daughter!!! I remember the block being ‘L-shaped’ with the little infant toilets to the right and the junior toilets on the left along a corridor – and you’re right, they were revolting, dark and damp – the things we had to put up with!!!!
    as for the milk, i remember it being stored on the cast iron radiators before we were forced to drink them and Jane Wilox telling the teacher that she didn’t like milk and it made her sick…………………. just as she was throwing it all up!!
    Happy days and happy memories…………….. as for the x’s tables, I wish I’d known about the fantastic finger technique that I’m now using to help Esme learn her 3x and 9x’s tables!!!
    Jacqueline xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Argh!! The toilet paper, I had temporarily forgotten that!! I do remember the tuition now LOL!!!

      Still doing that technique too haha – gutted that B is a “scruncher”. Poor form.

      Much love – how’s Moomin?? XXXXXX


      1. Moomin has arrived & is currently snuggling in between our pillows on the bed, just suggested to husband that maybe Moomin should sleep in our room tonight, he said he’d been waiting for that….. 😜

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved the times tables too, and still have that reflex, unlike algebra its been pretty helpful, my kids are in school and i dont think they know one end of a times table from another, still doing stuff on their fingers even at fourteen, ten and seven.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I understand now that it didn’t suit all but it has to be worth a try for those who it will work for!

      I don’t know that we’ll do algebra at all at home, I can think of more creative and interesting ways to develop logical thinking and reasoning skills… coding games maybe!!

      Thanks for the comment – I appreciate it!


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