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Friends of mine asked me for suggestion for one of their children (age 8) who had bad scores at the local Star test (the family is based in California).

Both parents work, so they have also limited time/energies to go through math exercise with the kid (or may have time only at the end of the day, when the student's energies are depleted, too).

This is not to say that anything requiring parent support should automatically disqualified - it's just to make clear that parent assistance could be a limited resource, so either something that can be done more or less alone by the student, or that gets maximum bang-for-the-buck for the parents time would be preferred.

Books (including exercise workbooks)? Software? Online videos? Games (boardgames, computer games)?

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a good, attentive and respectful teacher who makes him/her love math and raises the intuition of small pieces of beautiful success. –  al-Hwarizmi Aug 1 '13 at 18:17
8yo? 2nd grade? When I was that age I played math munchers. It was fun! –  Euler....IS_ALIVE Aug 1 '13 at 18:17
Have you heard of Khan academy? –  jkn Aug 1 '13 at 18:21
Related (not duplicate, necessarily): math.stackexchange.com/questions/73975/… –  anorton Aug 1 '13 at 18:22
On the topic of math games, I have heard a buzz around this: prodigygame.com –  Tyler Holden Aug 1 '13 at 18:24
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4 Answers

Online videos: Khan Academy has some great resources. Check out their Arithmetic section.

Online game: This is a fun "constructions" game. Maybe a bit advanced, but is pretty coo, nonetheless.

Some general ideas:

Give the kid a jar of pennies, and have him/her make patterns (e.g. rectangles, squares, etc). Start it off with supervision/guidance, and then let them play on their own. Have them count the pennies, first by ones, then by twos, etc. Show how grouping the pennies in stacks of $5$ can make it easier to count without mistakes.

Put up a "hundred chart" in their bedroom (or somewhere they spend a lot of time). Show them patterns like how the multiples of $5$ are in two columns, the multiples of $2$ are in diagonals, the multiples of $9$ are also on diagonals. Show them the Sieve of Eratosthenes to find "prime numbers" when they understand multiplication.

As soon as they know of a multiplication table, show how it can be used to find the number of pennies in a $8\times12$ rectangle.

Introduce them to "recreational math" problems There are plenty here under the ranging from super easy to super hard.

Sure: many of these involve some parent (or other adult) help. But that's just because there's no substitute for a parent/significant adult who cares. If the parent takes time out of their busy schedule to (patiently) work with the kid on math, it sends a message: "Math is important to me (the parent), and I care about helping you succeed." Kids (especially young ones) care about what their parents care about.

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++++ for the bold - until they have discovered the joy for themselves. –  Mark Bennet Aug 1 '13 at 18:32
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Online resources are certainly the easiest and cheapest. Resources such as Khan Academy has material such as basic arithmetic for young children.

Alternatively, if the child could ask their school math teacher for some help, whether its at lunch or after school, that'd definitely be helpful.

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Why I was a graduate student at UCLA I worked with students studying for this exact test. There really isn't any great tricks. The key is for the students to just practice alot of problems similar to the test (the teacher should provide some, and once you have those it is not too difficult to make new ones). I am sympathetic to the work schedule of the parents. My suggestions are if they can find an affordable private tutor, that could work wonders. Even an older teenager that would be cheap and for less than an hour a week on weekends could make a big difference. Also from experience I know that, depending on the comfort of the parents with math, any math tutoring of a child by the parent can cause hostility, for such a young child the key is patience.

I don't know of any appropriate software or games, and largely would downplay these. There is no substitute for human interaction in learning.

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In my personal opinion getting him interested in mathematics is the best way to get him to get better at it hands down. When I was a kid I played math games for kids on my computer and I would also compete against my mom to see who could answer basic arithmetic question (mabye TMI).

In other words if you can get the kid interested in math you are sure to see positive results since the key to proficiency is practice, and if there is passion the kid will practice without external motivation. Hope this helps.

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