How to Teach Children to Use the Order of Operations

by Kathryn Hatter

As math concepts build and become more complex, students need to understand and solve expressions that involve more than one operation. When multiplication, division, addition and subtraction are present in a math expression, rules dictate how to solve the problem. Called the “order of operations,” teach children these principles to enable them to solve more complex math problems successfully.

Compare solving math problems to reading a word sentence -- both techniques involve working from left to right. Tell your child that when examining a math expression, she needs to always begin at the left and work to the right to find the operations to solve first, according to the Eduplace website.

Show your child how to examine an expression to find parentheses. Explain to your child that he should solve any operations that exist within parenthesis first, working from left to right.

Explain to your child that any exponents in an expression come next, also working from left to right if more than one exponent occurs.

Instruct your child to perform the first multiplication or division operation in an expression (outside of parentheses), whichever operation comes first. Your child should then work her way from left to right to solve every multiplication or division operation as they occur from left to right.

Teach your child to then solve every addition or subtraction operation as they occur from left to right in the expression.

Provide practice problems that include various operations, including parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. As you work on problems, show your child how the presence of or absence of parentheses can dramatically change the answer he gets when working expressions. Continue to have your child practice solving expressions until he demonstrates a thorough understanding of order of operations.