Counting on Fingers

by Carol Chandler-Wood


Dear Carol, My daughter, who is in 2nd grade, counts on her fingers when adding and subtracting. Is this something I should be concerned about?
Mrs. B


Dear Mrs. B,
It is not unusual for a young child to use his or her fingers when calculating a math problem. This is a tactile method of learning. In fact, many older students, including middle and high school students, will put their hands under their desk or chair so no one can see them counting on their fingers, and press their fingers against the hard surface to add or subtract. They will also whisper to themselves while counting so they can hear their computation. Counting on fingers is a tactile method of learning, which can help students in several ways. It helps them stay better focused when calculating, it “imprints” the computation in their mind so they can visualize what they are doing, it helps them compensate for not yet having memorized math facts, and it utilizes their sense of touch to learn.

Of course, as students gets older, counting on fingers to do math is prohibitive. It drastically slows them down in their work, it disables them from moving forward into more advanced math topics, and it can be embarrassing, which affects their self-esteem and confidence.

My advice to you regarding your daughter is to allow her to count on her fingers until she has grasped the concepts of addition and subtraction. Once she has done this, begin to work with her on memorizing the math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division as these topics are introduced in her school curriculum. The ability to memorize math facts can vary from student to student. Hopefully, your daughter has excellent short-term memory and long-term retrieval and can memorize information with minimal drill and practice. However, if it is difficult for her to memorize math facts, try the following, which will combine her visual, auditory and kinesthetic processing. Using all three methods will greatly enhance her to learn these facts.

  1. Have her make her own set of flash cards for the math facts she is going to memorize. Be sure she writes the flashcards, not you. The operation is to go on one side, the answer on the reverse side.
  2. Next, have her record her own voice stating the operation she is to learn. For example she would say, ”One plus one equals (pause a few seconds) two. One plus two equals (pause a few seconds) three”. Record the facts in order initially.
  3. Then, have your daughter read and state out loud each fact from her flashcards until she feels she has memorized each fact.
  4. Now, using her recording and a pencil and paper, have her listen to her recording and write each answer on her paper during the pauses she created.
  5. When she has listened to her entire recording and answered each math fact, have her check her answers using her flashcards for correctness
  6. If she incorrectly answers any problems, have her repeat steps 4 and 5 until she can answer them with 100% accuracy.
  7. Last, re-record the math facts out of order and repeat steps #3 – 6. Memorizing math facts out of order will insure she is ready to apply her newly learned facts to more advanced math topics.

Happy Learning! I look forward to hearing of your daughter’s math success!