Counting with Fingers – Is it Bad?

Is it bad to rely on your fingers to count ? Here’s the short answer: counting on your fingers is helpful for a 4 year old child, but spells trouble for a child beyond first grade ..

Here’s why.

Reason #1: It Drags You Down

By the time you are in Middle School, math teachers expect you to know addition, subtraction backward and forward at a clip. When a teacher is explaining algebra on the board, she expects to teach the concept, not slow down for the addition and subtraction in the process. A student who gets dragged down in the process will start falling behind. That’s why 3rd and 4th graders get speed trials, to prepare for the middle school math blackboard.

Reason #2: It can discourage mental math development

What is 8 + 9 ? Students who see math in their head, may add it this way: 8 + 10 – 1, or this way: 8 double + 1. These students have chucked finger counting for mental math. As they work out their mental math muscles, they get even better and better at it. He has upgraded a child’s tool for a more sophisticated and powerful tool. Here’s a favorite mental math challenge our center gives to a student? What’s 99 + 99 + 99? If you need a piece of paper and pencil, you’re on the wrong track.

Reason #3: How sure is the student of the answer?

Let’s come back to 8 + 9 again. When a student sees it as 8 + 10 = 18, then minus 1 equals 17, he’s 100% sure it’s right. Next time you see a student counting on her fingers, ask her how sure she is that it’s the right answer? Our observation: he’s not very sure. Counting fingers involves concentration, not skipping by accident, remembering where to start and where to end … It takes skill.

Reason #4: It could get embarrassing

We had a 5th grader start at our center who was still counting with her fingers. But you couldn’t tell because she had developed sophisticated ways to disguise her finger counting. She would spread her fingers out on the table and look at them and count in her head. She could visualize her toes on the desk as clearly as if she was looking right at them. Her lips would not move, but her head would be nodding in rhythm to her counting. Why go through all that disguise? She was embarrassed. Happy to say we prescribed the “Cure to Finger Counting” and in just a few weeks she was adding 15 + 16, half of 48, 7 * 99 mentally in her head.

Is finger counting to be avoided at all cost? Like everything else, it’s not the tool itself, it’s how you use it. When you ask a 4 year old, “Sweetie, how old will you be in 3 years?”, and her fingers pop up, she’s getting into math, she’s thinking math is an everyday affair. When a fifth grader is totaling up 6 baskets of 13 pastries and uses 6 fingers as a memory tool to count up by 13, that’s smart. I still use my fingers to figure out the day of the week I need to return my DVD. Just don’t let it be a crutch, at the expense of the student’s math development.

Math Worksheets – Ineffective ways to use them

Are there ineffective ways of using Math Worksheets.

Do you use math workbooks or worksheets to supplement your child’s math learning at home? Math worksheets are essential to develop math skills. They can take a student from learning to mastery, from slow thoughtful application to speedy execution, turn new math muscles into solid math skills – IF employed effectively.

Math worksheets and work books can be purchased online, and retail stores like Walmart and Costco. That’s the easiest part. I’ve seen many well-meaning parents invest in the time and money to purchase these math workbooks then wonder why the idea stalled or abort within a few pages into the workbooks. There are millions of unused or unfinished math workbooks collecting dust in our homes. Why does that happen?

These are the mistakes to avoid when using math workbooks with your children:

Mistake #1. Not finding out your child’s math level before you purchase the math workbook or worksheets. Don’t simply go by the grade number on the workbook. These workbooks are sold nationwide and you know that the range of math curriculum and competency expectations vary widely from state to state. Instead: Have a math conversation with your child. If need be, talk to teachers, parents to have a good understanding what math topics the student should have. Then with a combination of oral and written questions, assess what the child knows and what the gaps are with respect to what’s expected of him. For example, if you have a 4th grader who is ahead, getting him a 4th Grade workbook, and repeating topics he already knows (in fact, he wishes his math teacher would go faster) is not only boring and a waste of time for the child, it will douse his interest and excitement about math. on the other hand, a 4th grader who’s been struggling for a few months, may need a 3rd grade workbook to catch up on the gaps and boost his number sense.

Mistake #2: Going through the workbook sequentially page by page. The goal of assessing the student is not to find a starting point, but to find gaps. Here’s the difference. 2 students may be at the same math competency level in terms of his grade, but if you probe deeper, you will find that one child could use more practice on fractions, another child didn’t get Percent. When you think “gaps” instead of “starting point”, it’s very clear that going through a workbook page by page sequentially is not as effective as jumping around, focusing, on topics that will address the student’s weak areas, and spending much less time on topics that the student already mastered.

Mistake #3: Expecting the worksheets to do all the instruction. Some worksheets are intended to develop a student’s mastery and speed. But some of the worksheets may be new concepts, or a new way of looking at something that didn’t click with the child the way it was explained in the classroom. It’s a mistake to expect the worksheets to do 100% of the instruction. Expect to spend time with your child explaining, clarifying, giving examples, and correcting erroneous thinking/understanding.

Mistake #4: Not validating to see if the effort’s making a difference. It’s easy to gain a false sense of assurance that if the student’s putting in the time, then he must be improving. Instead, validate the results. Talk to his math teacher, study his quizzes, why he responds the way he does, how’s his MCAS? Have math conversations with him to, math is verbal and visual, it’s not just paper and pencil. What are you looking for? You’re looking for grade improvement as well as his attitude and confidence in math. There’s no validation like a child saying, “Hey, Mom, math just seems to make so much more sense now. ”

Mistake #5: Not realizing the importance of Fun, Encouragement, Consistency in the whole process. We know consistency produces results. If you want consistent effort from your child, the experience must be fun, and encouraging to him. Scolding, threats, witholding privileges, timing out a child until he finishes his worksheet creates a stressful and conflict-ridden environment that is not sustainable. In fact, this is often the #1 reason parents bring their children to our Math Learning center. Aside our center being a fun, kid-friendly environment, we don’t have the parent-child tension that gets in the way of nurturing the child’s love for math.

Math worksheets and math workbooks are just tools. The way they are implemented is often more important than the worksheets themselves. Don’t make any of the 5 mistakes above, and your child will be making good progress boosting her math skills.