As a 1stgrader, I remember my teacher telling me to stop counting with my fingers because it was babyish and I needed to be a big girl and count in my head. To win brownie points from my teacher, I would look up at the ceiling and pretend I was counting in my head but secretly I was using my fingers under my desk. To me, I didn’t understand how counting with your fingers was babyish. I’m a visual person so I like to SEE how I’m solving a problem. Finger counting worked for me.
In 2015, two neuroscientists, Dr. Berteletti and Dr. James R. Booth, conducted a study on children between the ages of 8 to 13 years old to investigate the use of finger counting in solving single-digit arithmetic problems. The study revealed that the larger the subtraction problem was, the greater the need for finger counting.
Another study found that counting with your fingers is a useful support tool to learning mathematics. Counting with your fingers could also be particularly appropriate for children who have a learning or developmental disability.
When working with students in math, I’ve had experiences where students hide their hands under the table when they come to an addition or subtraction problem. I let them know to not be ashamed of using their fingers. I also share that I still use my fingers to count too. Sharing something so vulnerable with a child, lets them know that you are on their team. If your child uses their fingers to count, have them embrace it and not hide it! Help them develop this skill and grow their mathematical skills.