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Young children can use fingers to boost their maths skills, say researchers

It’s a tried and tested method for counting, and now research has found that using fingers can help young children with their maths


A new study suggests that playing finger games – such as holding up a certain number of fingers – alongside number games like dominoes boosts youngsters’ results in counting and simple arithmetic.

Researchers said the findings could be useful for teachers in developing children’s understanding of numbers.

The study, involving 137 children aged six and seven, saw pupils divided into five groups.

One was given finger training exercises, the other played number games. Two other groups did both finger training and number exercises and the fifth was a control group that was given its usual maths lesson.

The finger training games included numbering fingers from one to five and matching them with a finger on the other hand and tracing coloured lines with a particular finger, while the number games included dominoes, playing with dice and snakes and ladders.

Researchers found that the two groups which did both types of games (finger and number) did around twice as well in tests after the experiment as the other groups.

Overall, these groups saw their results – in basic number skills including adding and subtracting – go up by around 20 points, while the other three groups combined saw results go up by around nine points.

Study author 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,”

“Research is showing that fingers are an important part of children’s thinking and learning,” he told the Press Association.

Prof Jay went on to say that even in adults, there are suggestions that when someone thinks about number, the part of the brain that deals with finger movement is also activated.

“If you were to ask ‘how many months to November?’ many people would use their fingers”, he added.

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