Friday, September 02, 2011

we're not done yet...

I got an email this morning from a concerned mother who learned that her son had been kept from counting on his fingers in the second week of second grade. This came as a surprise because I didn't know that there were still schools in which the relationship between the brain, fingers and math was still misunderstood. The concerned mother wrote:
I discovered your blog via a web search while looking for research about Counting on Fingers. Specifically, your December 22, 2009 post included a comment by you that stated, "...Some thought that children should be discouraged from counting on their fingers. But the research tells us otherwise..."

My son is in his second week of second grade and has been FORBIDDEN to use his fingers to "add on" while doing addition. This is much to my dismay as I still find myself doing this. I have a Bachelor of Science degree, a teaching certification, and am only one class from a second degree in criminal justice. I don't think I qualify as exactly 'stupid.' However, that is how I am being made to feel.

In preparing to meet - again - with my child's teacher and campus administration, I am trying to "get my ducks in a row" by obtaining as much research as I am able to back up my views. I have searched and searched the internet but haven't found much. What research have you found to support the use of "finger counting?" Any assistance you are able to provide would be MUCH appreciated.
The quickest way to find resources on the relationship between fingers and math is to use the google search terms, intraparietal sulcus, fingers and math. The intraparietal sulcus is the part of the brain that controls the fingers and also does math. Using these search terms, any mom facing the same dilemma can become "armed" with the facts. She (and you) will find journal articles to download and websites that offer insight. Another important paper is by Nancy Jordan, Development of number combination skill in the early school years: when do fingers help?

Even armed with the facts, it can be difficult asking a teacher to change methods, and extremely awkward for the child involved. The good thing is that these matters can be discussed with a second grade child. No child is too young to begin to understand the relationship between the hands and learning. He or she can be reassured that counting on fingers is no sign of stupidity, but rather one of natural development. The wisdom of the hands will not arrive in one fell swoop, but will take generations. While we are being patient, and persistent,

Make, fix and create...


  1. I have just been wondering about this, as my daughter is fascinated with addition and counts on her fingers. She is four and we are delighted to see that she is learning number theory: in this case, the fact that addition is a shorthand for counting.

    I hope she never has a teacher who makes her stop--I figure she'll stop using counting when she has complete confidence that 5 + 2 ALWAYS equals 7 (a great discovery in itself), and in her own memory. Rushing that process, or any other process of making knowledge one's own, does nothing good for learners.

  2. Children know a lot about their own learning. Counting on fingers works, and our whole system of numbers is derived from them. Why not use them until they are no longer necessary?

    Studies prove that those kids who are encouraged to count on fingers outgrow their need to count on fingers earlier than those who are not.

  3. Anonymous5:31 AM

    That is so sad to see in a teacher. But changing the attitudes of teachers and administrators is extremely difficult. Amy's daughter will eventually outgrow using her fingers to count, if she's allowed to learn and grow and use her hands.

    At least schools aren't still trying to convert, meaning force, left-handed people like me to become right-handed these days.