Priya is completing an addition worksheet. She is stuck on the problem 5+3 so she decides to use her hands to help her figure out the answer. She holds up five fingers on one hand and counts to three while one-by-one raising three fingers on the other hand. Priya then counts all of her outstretched fingers. “Eight!” she says and moves on to the next problem.
Priya struggled to answer the math problem but she cleverly used a tool that’s available at her fingertips (literally!) to solve the problem.
Finger Counting Supports Math Learning
It is a common myth that counting on fingers is an immature math strategy and hinders children’s learning. However, research shows that using fingers to help teach early math concepts supports children’s math learning. In fact, using fingers or other body parts to count may be the oldest and most common way to represent and learn numbers.
When teaching counting, early childhood educators often use objects such as cubes or animal toys to make math concepts easier to understand. Fingers can work in the same way—plus they have the advantage of almost always being available.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes children will respond to the question, “How old are you?” by silently holding up the correct number of fingers? This may be because young children find hand gestures easier to produce and understand than spoken or written number words. Pairing hand gestures with speech can be a powerful tool to help children understand numbers.
Counting on Fingers Helps Children Practice the:
Order of the number counting list. Raising a finger for each number in the list not only reinforces that four comes after three, but also that four is exactly one more than three.
Base-10 number system. Counting on fingers reminds children that each decade (20, 30, etc.) has the same pattern, repeating the numbers one through nine before the decade name changes.
Counting-on addition strategy. Priya practiced this in the example above when she counted to one number and added more numbers to find the total.