Don’t discourage your child from using his fingers to do his mathematics calculations. There are just too many reasons why using our fingers helps develop early mathematics concepts. Encourage him to use his fingers and as he truly develops inner understanding for numbers and maths, he will no longer need to rely on them.
Did you ever stop to think about why we use ten as our base for numbers? Why this decimal system? It is no coincidence that we have ten fingers and a system of numbers that uses ten. The old English Imperial system used measurements that did not rely on ten. But that system, too, was linked very directly to our body. When they measured in feet and inches, they used the size of a man’s foot and the size of his thumb. In Dutch and Afrikaans “inch” is directly translated as “duim” which means “thumb”.
When our children use their fingers for counting, adding and subtracting, they give themselves a sense of ownership of numbers. Numbers are clearly directly related to them and to their body; not something from another planet, foist upon our poor children as just another hurdle to conquer during school. When our children have a sense of ownership of numbers, they will feel more able to try different ways of manipulating them and seeing how the different calculations make sense. It will be easier to recognise the patterns in numbers and to see the links between, for example, 2+ 3, 12+3 and 22+3. They will more easily understand the link between multiplication if they hold up 3 fingers on each hand, it is easily clear for them to see that that represents both 2 x 3 and 3 + 3. Bonds of 10 cannot be easier than when done on the fingers. Hold up 1 finger and count how many are still down; hold up 2 and notice what happens to the number left down….
These may seem very simplistic and many parents and teachers want to jump into teaching number concept before the child has fully internalised this important link of fingers and the decimal system. If you want to prepare your child well for playing with numbers and for conquering mathematics, begin when they are very young by playing with numbers of fingers. We already see very young children who can give you a “high 5”. Well let’s use that and build on it. Begin with a “high 10”: he must throw up both hands to clap yours. Then include “high 4” and he throws up one hand with his thumb tucked in. Once he has mastered 5, 10 and 4 you can introduce “high 3”, “high 2” and “high 1”. Show him how “high 5” plus “high 1” make 6 fingers and continue this until he has seen how to add and take away fingers to get to 10 or to go down from 10 to no fingers.
You can also play games similar to “rock, paper, scissors”: both of you put your hands behind your back and you pull out your hands showing a number of fingers. Your child has to quickly pull his hands out showing one more finger. Upgrade this to having him show 2 more and then begin moving in the opposite direction, with him having to quickly show 1 less or 2 less...
Developing this quick response of his fingers to numbers, helps build an extra neurological link in his brain to the early and most frequent calculations. Much like early reading needs to be done aloud so that your child develops the visual-auditory neural system for reading, so this develops the kinaesthetic (movement) neural links for numbers. Once we have developed our reading fluency and our early phonics have become integrated, we are able to read efficiently without verbalising; but if we come across a difficult, unfamiliar word, we may find ourselves sub-vocally verbalising. And many adults shyly admit that at times they find themselves very slightly moving their fingers as they add or subtract.
There are many ways that fingers can be related to numbers and calculations. I have given some for the very early introduction of number concept. On this web-site, I have also drawn the hands to show you how to use fingers in the easiest ways to teach your child some times-tables. You will love the simplicity. Many people use these and feel that somehow they are cheating. But you are most certainly not cheating! You are realising the link between your ten fingers and the decimal system. Now you can teach it to your child. Maths can be fun, so play and enjoy!
CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO USE FINGERS FOR TIMES TABLES
CLICK HERE TO SEE A PROGRAMME TO TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ