Development of number combination skill in the early school years: when do fingers help?


Address for correspondence: Nancy C. Jordan, School of Education, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA; e-mail:


Children's change over time in frequency of finger use on number combinations was examined in relation to their change in accuracy. Performance was tracked longitudinally over 11 time points, from the beginning of kindergarten (mean age = 5.7 years) to the end of second grade (n= 217). Accuracy in number combinations increased steadily during the time period while frequency of finger use declined. Correlations between finger use and accuracy decreased gradually, ranging from 0.60 in kindergarten to −0.15 at the end of second grade. Low-income children showed linear growth in frequency of finger use while middle-income children slowed down by second grade and even started to decline. Although girls and boys showed similar growth patterns in frequency and accuracy, boys used their fingers less often than girls and were more accurate. The findings indicate that finger use is most adaptive when children are first learning number combinations, but this benefit lessens over time.