• Felicia Mollohan

Adding and Subtracting Using Fingers

I’m sure that there some of you that will be against this whole idea. I know, I know…don’t use your fingers for math. But, for some kids, it works.

Hear me out. While I was teaching, some kids needed to actually see the math problem so that they could solve it, at least at first. For some students, math is very abstract and it must be made concrete for them to understand it. For these children, I had them get out their crayons or colored pencils to count out the problem.

For some children, like our youngest son, are very kinesthetic (hands-on and learns by touch and by doing) and needs to “feel” it. He’s in 2nd grade and has been working on memorizing his facts, but he’s into 2 digit addition and subtraction. Using crayons and colored pencils are just too cumbersome. So here’s what we’ve come up with:

  1. He “reads” the math problem

  2. He or I touch his forehead and say the first number

  3. Then he puts the other number on his fingers

  4. He counts forward for addition or counts backwards for subtraction on his fingers until he comes to the answer (as he counts he lowers his fingers or I touch each finger)

Here’s what it looks like in real life:

** 25 - 8 =

  1. He says “25 minus 8 equals”

  2. I touch his head and say “Put 25 in your head”

  3. He holds up 8 fingers

  4. He counts backwards while lowering his fingers (24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17)

  5. He states that the answer is 17.

I still think it’s important for children to learn their math facts, but until that happens, I think that it’s completely fine for them to use their fingers. To be honest, I still use my fingers sometimes.


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