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Schoolchildren 'can become more numerate by counting with their fingers'

28/06/2017 Joanna

Counting on one's fingers can play a crucial role in establishing a foundation of mathematical understanding for schoolchildren, according to new research.

The Sheffield Hallam University study has indicated that finger-based maths games may represent a much more important part of maths learning than previously thought, and ought not to be seen as a behaviour that should be discouraged.

For this research, a group of 137 primary school pupils aged between six and seven were asked to take part in a number of counting and number games, with a select group assigned exercises that involved finger-training.

Whereas some students were asked to take part in games involving numerical symbols like dominoes or snakes and ladders, others played finger games, such being asked to hold up a given number of digits, or tasks that involved assigning specific numbers to their individual fingers.

All of these children were shown to perform slightly better in maths tests than a third group of pupils who had simply continued with their regular maths teaching, but the group which did both the counting and finger games fared significantly better.

This indicates that the use of fingers in early maths learning can play an important role in helping children to conceptualise mathematical concepts in a more tangible way, giving them a means of understanding the theory on a deeper level.

Professor Tim Jay of Sheffield Hallam University said: "This study provides evidence that fingers provide children with a bridge between different representations of numbers, which can be verbal, written or symbolic. Combined finger training and number games could be a useful tool for teachers to support children's understanding of numbers."

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