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Counting on fingers

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. 

Carol Wood

In fact, many 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 get 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 readers is if you have a student who counts on fingers when doing the math, allow him/her to do so until the concepts of addition and subtraction are grasped.  Once this is done, begin to work with your student on memorizing the math facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division as these topics are introduced in school curriculum.  

The ability to memorize math facts can vary from student to student.  Hopefully, your student has excellent short-term memory and long-term retrieval and can memorize information with minimal drill and practice.  However, if it is difficult for your child to memorize math facts, try the following, which will combine visual, auditory and kinesthetic processing.  Using all three methods will greatly enhance the mastery of math facts.

1) Have student make his/her own set of flashcards for the math facts to be memorized.  Be sure the student writes the flashcards, not you.  The operation is to go on one side, the answer on the reverse side.  

2) Next, have student record his/her voice stating the operation to be learned.  For example, the student 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 student read and state out loud each fact from the flashcards until each is memorized.

4) Now, using this recording and a pencil and paper, have your student listen to his/her recording and write each answer on the paper during the pauses created.

5) When the student has listened to the entire recording and answered each math fact, have him/her check the answers using the flashcards for the correctness

6) If the student incorrectly answers any problems, have him/her repeat steps 4 and 5 until all are answered 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 ensure the student is ready to apply the newly learned facts to more advanced math topics.

Carol is the Founder & Owner of Total Learning Concepts, Inc. Visit for information about their tutorial and test preparation services. For more information about Total Learning Concepts, Inc., please call 770-381-5958 or visit their website: and Facebook: