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Why Teaching Numbers This Way Makes Your Kids Smarter And How To Do It


How to teach numbers to your kids at home

Teaching math is easier than you think.  It can be as easy as counting on your fingers.

Science shows that children who count on their fingers are better at mathematics.  

This study reviewed in the Wall Street Journal demonstrates that counting on fingers provides a solid foundation to mathematics and leads, as renowned researcher Brian Butterworth proclaims, to children having normal representation of numbers in their brain.

Why Does Finger Counting Matter?

finger counting the parenting journal

Research suggests that finger counting helps a child visualize numbers.  When a child is able to visually conceptualize numbers' quantity, the child thinks about numbers in a more comprehensive manner.  This means that more parts of the child's brain are activated when counting. The child then comprehends the numbers as multi-dimensional and better understands how the numbers fit into our world.

"Researchers found that when 6-year-olds improved the quality of their finger representation, they improved in arithmetic knowledge, particularly skills such as counting and number ordering.  In fact, the quality of the 6-year-old’s finger representation was a better predictor of future performance on math tests than their scores on tests of cognitive processing." (The Atlantic)

activate more of the brain

Even though your child may be able to say the numbers, he or she may not be able to understand their meaning or visually conceptualize the numbers.  Understanding the meaning of the numbers, like their quantity, is essential to learning math properly.  

"Many young children can count from 1 to 10 without understanding the meaning of the numbers they're counting," says Beth Casey, professor emeritus of applied developmental and educational psychology at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. (Science Daily)

How Does This Change Number Education? 

traditional ways of teaching math the parenting journal

Traditionally and even today, many teachers discourage counting on fingers.  Rote memorization (i.e. repeating writing numbers and multiplication) is often used to teach math. Instead, more tangible methods should be used.

"Everyone uses visual pathways when we work on math. The problem is it has been presented, for decades, as a subject of numbers and symbols, ignoring the potential of visual math for transforming students’ math experiences and developing important brain pathways." (The Atlantic)

How To Teach Numbers Visually?

Visual ways of learning numbers teach your child to understand that numbers equal quantities. For example, the number 5 = 5 things.  It also helps your child understand magnitude. For example, 10 apples means "more apples" than 3 apples, and subsequently 10 is greater than 3.   

Below are different ways you can visualize numbers with your children, including activities you can do everyday, games to play, and Montessori math. 

4 Ways To Visually Count During Everyday Activities

visualize numbers parenting journal

1. Count At The Grocery Store

  • ask you child to get 2 applies
  • ask your child to count the number of onions in your cart
  • ask your child to count how many items are in your cart while you are in line

counting at home

2.  Count Slices Of Fruit or Vegetables At Home

count steps the parenting journal

3. Count Steps

  • When going up or down steps, count them with your child.  

finger counting games the parenting journal

4. Play Finger Counting Games

  • Hold up one finger on either hand.  Ask, how many fingers am I holding?
  • Then hold up two fingers on either hand, then three, etc.
  • You can also ask "what is one plus one"? Hold up one finger on either hand and ask your child to count the total. Continue with two plus two or three plus one, etc.

2 Types Of Games To Play To Visualize Numbers

linear board games

Linear Board Game Example

1. Play Linear Board Games. As this study shows, linear boardgames help children visualize numbers.

How to make a linear board game?

  • You can turn a board game at home (checkers board or chutes and ladders) into a number board, making it stop at a number to which your child is comfortable counting.
  • You can print your own like this one below.

2. Play tactile number and association games.

  • You can download a bunch for free here.  

Try Montessori Math

Montessori math curriculum does a fantastic job at making numbers a visual entity.

    • You can purchase your own Montessori math materials for home use or you can make your own at home too.
    • Count money.
    • Do you have toy fruits/cakes/pizza that cut in half? Count the pieces separately and then put them back together and count them again, showing how 2 pieces can make a whole or 6 pieces can make a whole.


 A video on how Montessori math works

 Have questions on teaching numbers visually? Leave a comment below or email Allie at  

 Happy counting! 

Allie and The Parenting Journal Team

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