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Good News: Counting on Your Fingers Helps

October 27, 2016
Plain English Version
Getty Images Corbis Documentary Philippe Lissac

Getty Images
Corbis Documentary Philippe Lissac

Counting on your fingers makes you better at arithmetic. No one seems to know how to prove it. Do smart kids do it to improve math skills? Or do kids who do it become better at math? It does not seem to matter.

Scientists know there is a part of the brain that deals with sensations such as pain, pressure or heat. A new study shows the same part of the brain also plays a role in solving math problems. It comes into play when a youngster uses fingers for counting. Scientists call it finger perception.

If you use finger perception and finger counting, scientists say something will happen. The numbers will have a “normal representation in the brain.”

Here is a test at how good you are at using your fingers. Block your hands from view. Touch one or two fingers with your thumb. Ask yourself which of your fingers you have touched. People with weak finger sense will have trouble identifying one finger from another.


Is finger sense only a bridge to learning math or can students use it for a longer time? An expert said we want children to move off counting their fingers but not too soon. He continued that finger counting is not something that should alarm parents. Children will outgrow finger counting when they no longer need it.

About whether finger counting will create better math students, in the long run, the jury is still out.

For simple things, finger counting may always work. One person suggested using your fingers to “spell out” the number of address. For example, 1,3,5,2. He said, “Just do it once. See if it does not work way better than just using your thinking to remember.

Source: The Wall Street Journal October 21, 2016

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