While there’s a distinct push to embrace technology in the classroom, getting back to basics in areas from handwriting to counting on fingers is proving once again that tried and true techniques serve the youngest learners well. From a renewed emphasis on teaching handwriting, and cursive, in particular, to a new study out of the United Kingdom published in Frontiers in Education that finger counting to solve math problems is highly beneficial for early learners.
The study, conducted by Tim Jay, from Sheffield Hallam University, and Julie Betenson, from the University of Bristol, looked at the existing literature on how finger counting helps early learners develop a stronger understanding of basic mathematical concepts such as representations of ordinal and cardinal number and built on it to explore how it might improve quantitative skills. Based on results of the 137 student study, Jay and Betenson observed and documented the conditions under which finger counting helped students make the greatest gains.
Based on the research results students who used finger counting in isolation and those who used finger counting in conjunction with numeracy-focused games, such as dominos and card games, made the greatest gains as compared to the control group and the group that just played games. The single greatest gains were made among the students using finger counting in conjunction with games.
While all studies have their limitations what the evidence from Jay and Betenson indicates that current pedagogical practice of phasing out finger counting as a part of mathematical learning in first grade should be reconsidered. And that, as the authors note “fingers represent a means for children to bridge between other (verbal, symbolic, and non-symbolic) representations of number and that this contributes to children’s developing understanding.”
In other words, continuing to use finger counter past early childhood education and into the elementary years, may be a “useful tool for teacher to…support children’s developing understanding” of core mathematical concepts.
Ready to learn how to build an effective handwriting program for early learners? You can do that here.