Experts explain the benefits of young children counting on their fingers.
Every school year, in the first grades of primary education, it is common for a mother to approach me, and after talking for a while about her son’s progress and development, she asks me the same question: «Teacher, I have been observing my son when doing homework and I see him use his fingers to count and solve his math exercises. Is that okay? Or should she stop using her hands by now? “
When the mother finally asks me if this is right or wrong, I invite her to come to my office so I can take a little time and explain the mental processes that the children are undergoing.
A little history
Since the beginning of time, the human being has helped himself with his own body to solve the situations that living presents him; such as measure. Then, he began to establish measurements such as the foot, which was literally the measurement of a man’s foot, a quarter, which goes from the little finger to the thumb, an elbow, from the wrist to the elbow, and many others according to the different cultures in the world, and of course counting as the beginning of mathematics.
When we reflect that our number base is 10, it is very easy to understand if we count the fingers of our hands. The body is the child’s first tool to discover and face the world in every way.
Our fingers give us the opportunity to correspond one to one, (a number equals one finger), and easily count to ten. From there, you start doing series, remembering dozens and endless possibilities, but is counting with your fingers a very young thing? Or not?
Symbolic play and learning
Many adults today have the false belief that counting on the fingers is bad because they relate it to young children, and it is even thought that those who cannot do a calculation without using their fingers have problems with mathematics, or are clumsy. And that is not true.
For many years we have mistakenly related solving problems or operations quickly as a sign of intelligence and we forget that to reach resolution and speed, the mind first had to be exercised with a lot of concrete material, because touching and feeling is the beginning to develop the ability to abstraction.
What has been palpated can then be represented in the mind and thus processed, without the need for objects; for the construction in the mind has been done before.
When children are young, we see that through the symbolic gameThey represent what they observe in daily life to achieve their understanding and internalize it. To play they like to use things that they can manipulate and move at will. When they learn to count, they use pebbles and any other object that they can relate “one-to-one”, so that later they can see the amount, assign a number or a graphic representation.
The process of taking a child’s mind from the concrete to the abstract develops throughout childhood, and as he matures, we can observe that he leaves objects little by little, or creates other strategies that allow him to remember in his mind and being able to solve the problems of daily life. These processes should never be forced.
It’s all about processes
When children stop using their fingers, they begin to draw many lines that they later count to solve their operations and it is until the beginning of puberty that they can hardly be seen counting on their fingers.
So, counting on the fingers is not bad and we must stop criticizing those who do it, especially if they are children. In fact, you and I and thousands of adults when we are doing an operation on the mind we usually move our fingers, we touch them one by one with our thumbs, and our mind then solves with ease.
Practical recommendations to consider with your children
1 Know your child’s stage of development
Currently it is very easy to find information, read and learn about our children. I invite you to read and know the characteristics of each stage of development because you will be able to know what you experience and how to help you.
2 Games and songs where they use their fingers or move their whole body
These singing and moving body exercises or those known as brain GYM they favor the cerebral hemispheres and thereby generate new connections between neurons to promote learning.
3 Counting, Sorting, Comparing, and Adding Activities
Whether in the garden, kitchen or anywhere else you will always have the opportunity to play with your child to order, for example from the smallest to the largest, order from left to right, make groups of objects similar by their color, by their functions; compare objects by their weight, size, color and of course add as the beginning of the addition, remove as the beginning of the subtraction and even distribute objects as the beginning of the division.
When the child manipulates objects, he is experimenting and all his senses are alert in such a way that the mind registers everything and more neural connections are formed
4 Encourage the use of objects while telling or posing a problem
Posing simple problems is a great opportunity to manipulate objects for the child, that way the child can experiment and clearly see possible solutions.
5 Group count and write
Have your child group small collections of rocks, toys, or any other object and then write the number that represents it. They can form groups of 10 elements; You will be introducing him to the concept of the ten and then being able to count from 10 to 10. Writing is a part of abstraction, the child can see and understand that so many objects can be represented with a number.
6 Play the series
Using your fingers you can start counting together with your child two by two, three by three and ten by ten and so on.
When should you worry?
Start paying attention to your child’s development if after 10 years it is impossible for him to do numerical series, or when any of the following things happen:
Solve simple operations
If you check the results of your operations over and over again and often get different results
If you can’t solve addition or subtraction of up to three digits without the help of a calculator
If you get frustrated, crying, or angry at not being able to understand a problem or not knowing what operation to use to solve it
If your child uses his fingers to solve correctly, then you should stop, nothing happens but if you see that the fingers “are not enough” to solve and he begins to despair or show some anguish, you must first approach his teachers; They will help you see if it is just a stage or if it requires other support.
The most important thing is to always be attentive to its healthy development.