A number of primary school children come to Satchel because they are struggling with maths. At their free Starting Satchel meeting, it is clear that a high proportion of these children rely on their fingers to help with even simple calculations such as 4 + 3 or 8 – 5.
Finger counting is encouraged in many schools as a way of helping calculate additions and subtractions. However many children continue to rely on this method for years to come.
Finger counting is inefficient because if causes children to continually calculate the answers to questions. It slows them down, means they make mistakes if they miss a finger and hinders their ability to see patterns in numbers. If uncorrected, it creates problems for the future. How many calculations will they have to do on their fingers when they tackle column subtraction or two digit multiplication?
Just as children learn their times tables, we believe it is vital that children know all their additions and subtractions by rote. At Satchel we first show them techniques such as reversing the question (8 + 2, rather than 2 + 8), using times tables (7 x 2 = 14, therefore 8 + 7 is one more) and inverse operations (If 3 + 5 = 8, then 8 – 5 = 3), but also ensure they receive sufficient practice on additions and subtractions to break the (bad) habit of finger counting.
Generally, the longer a child has relied on finger counting, the harder it is to break the habit. However with the right commitment and encouragement, children of all ages can overcome it. Once they do, it can quickly restore their confidence in maths and set them on the road to long term success.