I would like to know how to help my daughter master her math facts. She is currently in second grade and still using her fingers. What do you suggest? -- Finger Counter


Educators have mixed feelings about children using their fingers as counters. At one time it was definitely discouraged; however, now many teachers consider it to be fine. Plus, as your daughter learns her facts better, she will rely less on her fingers to come up with the answer. Incidentally, a math fact is considered to be learned when a child can give the answer in 3 seconds.

A good way to get your daughter to start using her fingers less is to get her some counters. These counters can be anything from beans to buttons. The first math facts that she should master are the 1-more facts: 2+1, 3+1, 4+1, and so on. These facts should be followed by the 2-more and then the 3-more facts. She can use counters as she masters these facts. Once she understands each set of facts, begin to use flashcards to check that she can respond in 3 seconds. If she can't, have her lay out counters to do so. Do not go to the next step until this step is totally mastered.

The next step is for children to practice doubles, like 2+2, 3+3 and 4+4. Children will find learning these facts easier if they can visualize and think of these relationships. For example, help your daughter to see that 3+3 can be thought of as a 6 pack of soda with three cans on each side. 5+5 can be thought of as the number of fingers on each hand, and 6+6 can be thought of as a carton of eggs, which is 12 or one dozen.

From doubles, you should introduce your daughter to near doubles (given a number, what is its double plus one). Then you should move on to teaching her these facts: 6 + 7, 6 + 8, 6 + 9, 7 + 7, 7 + 8, 7 + 9, 8 + 6, 8 + 7, 8 + 8 and 8 + 9, using the idea of "Make Ten." For 6 + 7 she would lay out a row of 6 and a row of 7 counters. Then she would take 4 counters from the row of 7 to make a row of 10. Now she will be able to see that 6 + 7 is a 10 and a 3, or 13.