When a child is first learning math, help is right at the end of his hand.

Have you ever watched a young child count to 10? Their fingers are probably moving as the numbers go up. Don’t we teach them to use their fingers to express age?

When they use their fingers, they also activate the areas of their brain associated with counting.

Researchers know that they “see” a representation of their fingers in their brains, even when they do not use fingers in a calculation. So, even when they may not be counting on their fingers, their brain is.

That’s because when children count on their fingers, they take an abstract concept—mathematics—and translate it into a basic, tangible form.

Young children with good finger awareness are better at performing numerical tasks than those with less finger sense. Stopping students from using their fingers when they count could be akin to halting their mathematical development.

Fingers are useful visual aids (and always accessible), and the finger area of their brain is used well into adulthood. It’s nothing but traditional thinking that prevents teachers and parents from offering this (literal) helping hand.

Finger-counting is not something kids should hide under the table or behind their backs. Experts say that when you let your child’s fingers do the counting, you’re setting the table for strong math skills. And when they eventually realize it’s quicker just to know the answer, they will be less dependent on using their fingers.

Dr. Jo Boaler of Stanford wrote that “The need for …finger perception could even be the reason that pianists, and other musicians, often display higher mathematical understanding than people who don’t learn a musical instrument.”

When you think you don’t use your fingers, you still grab a calculator. And although I know that 7+5=12, I still use my fingers to count five more than seven.

Admit it. I bet you do, too.

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