Trilby Beresford
Updated Apr 16, 2016 @ 4:19 pm
genie counting
Credit: Disney

If you think back to math class in early grade school, you were probably taught to count using your fingers. But as you got older and mathematics got more advanced, chances are that you were encouraged to stop that practice, and count in your head. This has traditionally been seen as the more “intelligent” way to think, inside and out of the classroom.

But according to Stanford professor Jo Boaler, there are actually neurological benefits to using fingers for counting. Boaler published a paper in The Atlantic, where her main point illustrated the importance of fingers as a visual aid. “Fingers are probably one of our most useful visual aids, and the finger area of our brain is used well into adulthood. The need for and importance of finger perception could even be the reason that pianists, and other musicians, often display higher mathematical understanding than people who don’t learn a musical instrument.”

Boaler suggested in her paper that teachers should “celebrate and encourage finger use among young learners, and enable learners of any age to strengthen their brain capacity through finger counting and use.” She has even developed a curriculum called YouCubed at Stanford University, which aims to strengthen visual perception and numerical skills. The program is designed especially for children and teachers who have difficulty with learning math concepts, and, of course, it encourages the use of finger counting.

For anyone who struggled with math in school, this is pretty fascinating — and could even be a game changer for the next generation.