Just curious to find out the collective opinion on teaching children to count on their fingers for addition and subtraction. I personally try to get the kids to a point where they can mentally figure out the equation. I teach using a number line and manipulatives and try to get them to think the problem through before resorting to counting on their fingers. I've seen 3rd and 4th graders still doing it and I think if you start out that way, you don't learn you can do the problem in your head and the basic math facts do not become ingrained because you are always counting - the way you might copy an address every time you write it and never commit it to memory. I have a parent who is complaining because her child did not do well on a recent assessment and claimed it was because I didn't let her count on her fingers. Now, I never say anything during the test, but I do discourage that practice during everyday activities. To me, I am looking for mastery on an assessment and if you have to count on your fingers, you have not mastered the objective. Besides, I would think it would really slow them down in 1st Grade for the timed adding tests. Anyway, I value your opinions, just wondering what you think.

My oldest daughter IS a tactile learner (as am I)...has to touch, feel, or move something in order to understand the concept. So, as a parent, I had this same issue with her in school. Once she got to 3rd grade, and had developed the mental ability to "think abstractly," she did (and still does) just fine on the speed tests without the manipulatives -- addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. But, for K to 2, she met the objectives by having manipulatives available in front of her (fingers, beans, coins, scrap paper, etc.). Having these available actually sped her up. Ex: 100 problems, without manipulatives (fingers), got to 60; while 100 problems, manipulatives allowed, got to 86 to 92... time was 3 minutes, different order worksheets, exact same day, with manipulatives done first Yes, finger counting does slow down visual and auditory learners (another daughter IS visual and when she had to finger count it always slowed her down), but tactile learners need that "touch" reinforcement. As an instructor myself, I do a lot of "hands-on" instead of just paper and pencil. P.S. If you continue to copy an address and never memorize it, you are obviously not a tactile learner.

While I think it is important to have manipulatives available for children to use, I think it is equally important for them to know their facts. I try to move my students beyond using fingers for simple addition so as not to be slowed down. Intermediate grades have expressed to us that it is important we get the kiddos to know addition facts without the use of hands.

Personally, I believe that having math facts committed to memory is the main goal for all elementary students however, I have come to appreciate that not every student will meet that goal at the same time or grade. I give praise to students who 'calculate in their brains' and I encourage the students who 'need to use their fingers at times' to 'use them' to be successful on a test.

I honestly dont think it matters if children use their fingers. I have been a 3rd grade teacher for 5 years and trying to get students to learn multiplication facts is hard. Most of my students I would say throughout the years can see patterns or commit them to memory but a few still struggle. If those visual/tactile learners need to use markers, fingers, pencil marks to get the answer, I say go for it. Afterall being a teacher we need to be flexible to all learning styles. Yosephah

I recommend timed drills. I had a student tell me they cheated, after they improved their time. I said how? He said he memorized the answers. lol.

I do think they need to memorize the facts, but as someone who counted on my fingers for years, I think some kids will just do it. It's not like you can tie their hands! I think a good medium is to teach kids to put their hands on their desks, palm down, fingers spread out. Then they can count by pressing down their fingers. It is not as noticeable and they still get the tactile connection that may help them.

Some of my first graders come in so low that they have no concept of addition or subtraction. It takes awhile for a few of them to learn all of the numbers. So if they are still counting on their fingers or using counters at the end of first grade but getting the right answer I feel like that is better than nothing. Most of them memorize the facts, which is the goal. Personally, I used my fingers for a long time in elementary school but eventually I memorized the facts. I find that there is such a wide range of abilities in classes these days. It is a real challenge.

You can tell them not to use their fingers, but they will still do it without you seeing - speaking from personal experience! I used my fingers for a long time, but somewhere along the line the facts were memorized! I encourage kids in first to use fingers if they want to, to use cubes or other manips, or use brain and fingers with "counting on," etc. I think we should offer many ways to learn so we can cover most learning styles. I had one student who just could not get how to put the big number in his head, then count on. He could do it with me, but not on his own. I offered him cubes, and he is like a different kid - no longer discouraged that he is so slow with his math paper because he is speeding through with the cubes (unless he turns them into race cars and has a little party at his desk instead!). Anyway, you don't see many people graduating high school and still using manipulatives or fingers! So don't worry - let the kids learn at their pace. I always thought how kind it was for God to give us our fingers and toes in tens!!

I actually encourage my first graders to use their fingers. To me, it is just a different strategy for different styles of learning. While working on +/- problems, I will have children counting fingers, using a number chart, using dot math, counting on, and some just have them memorized. Although I was a whiz at mult. and div., I still don't have some add and sub problems memoized as an adult! In the whole realm of things, I think it is more important to get the right answer and understand how you got it than to be able to get the answer quickly. Really, does it matter how fast you can figure out 7+5? : )

I feel it doesn't matter if children use their fingers. I used my fingers to count and to do multiplication tables for a VERY long time and I was very advanced in high school math and tested for Calculus placement my freshman year of college (luckily I didn't have to take it). I am only in college so maybe there are things I don't know about that practice yet and I may have just been lucky...but my theory is...if it works...use it.

I think if it's not their fingers they will find something to "help them". I didn't mind mine using anything they needed ie. fingers,blocks, touch points, crayons. I did however encourage them to try the "easy" problems first w/out manipulatives ie 1+2. I also would tell them to look over their paper to see if they saw another problem like the one they answered so they could solve 2 problems using their "help" only once...and as my students did was say the problem to themself 3+1=4. They really liked the fact they answered one with "help" & one w/out...confidence bulding in math seems to be half the battle!!!I have always told my neighbor & cousin that I helped with math & my class that math is all about finding the "trick" that works for you. When I did teach I would use all if my learners tell us how they figured out the same problem some said I did it in my head, fingers, counters, number line. I would tell them see everyone has their own "trick"...they loved trying different tricks!!!

Speaking of tactile math, has anyone heard of "Touch Math". My daughter learned this method in 1st grade. Each number 1-9 has a sequence of single and double circles. The students would learn the pattern of dots for each number by touching them. One circle counts as one and double circles you count twice. For instance, # 4 has 4 single circles and # 7 has 3 double circles and 1 single circle. Eventually, the students would be able to add and subtract using this method without the dots being visible. She and the other children did learn to add and subtract quickly but it did take her longer to memorize the math facts. She is now in 4th grade and no longer uses this method because over time, she has memorized the facts.

DizneeTeachR, I like that you encourage a variety of "tricks". Do you also encourage a kid to use a variety of tricks, depending on the question? One huge factor in good critical thinking (and, yes, success on standardized tests) is having a number of tools in one's mental toolkit and knowing not to give up if the first tool doesn't get the job done.

Groupie..that's why I showed them different ways & asked them how they did it...Yup asked them to try different ways. We had little counters but many liked using their crayons to do it!!!

When I read your post, I was interested in any research on the subject of finger counting & came across this online... Finger Counting's Effect on Math Contrary to popular belief, finger counting can help children add and subtract. When a good student can't remember an answer from addition and subtraction tables, he or she counts fingers as a backup. But mediocre students have poor finger counting skills. Every teacher we've [talked to] has told us that telling children not to use their fingers doesn't work. We think children are right to do this because if you don't know the answer very well, then it's better to be right than wrong. – Excerpt from a study published in 1989 by Robert Siegler, psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University. http://www.psy.cmu.edu/~kidsweb/Research/researchOVERVIEW.html

They use the Touch Math at my daughter's school. I'd never seen it before but noticed the same thing as you. The kids use it to learn & then seem to wean themselves off of it later when they've moved to a higher skill level.

"They use the Touch Math at my daughter's school. I'd never seen it before but noticed the same thing as you. The kids use it to learn & then seem to wean themselves off of it later when they've moved to a higher skill level." Some do and some don't. I did a lot of research when I was considering teaching Touchmath. I'm glad I did not start teaching it. See the thread "Touchmath"(from today) for other opinions. Some teachers love it but I am staying away.

Thank you for your responses. The research is interesting and I know there are kids out there who lean more toward the tactile learning style. I guess my frustration comes in not that they actually use their fingers to count, but that they will resort to that automatically instead of thinking about the problem. I watch my Kinders pull up their fingers to subtract 7-1, they know how to count backwards, they know the number line, I just think it's almost like they don't know they can do it in their heads. As someone who struggled with math especially in high school (having a father with a degree in engineering who used to try and "help" explain my homework certainly didn't help me either) - I would just like them to have as much mental power as possible. Thanks for your input!

Um, meaning no disrespect, Cowgirl, but I see grownups with decent math skills who start a problem by fiddling with their fingers.

I still count with my fingers, but I never had addition/subtraction drills and I'm not that great with multiplication drills (though I can get there). I wish I was better.