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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ready, Set, Count!

Counting Past 10:
When I first started this blog, I wanted to focus on finger patterns. Most of the feedback I hear from people is that their child is now solid with their numbers from 1 to 10 and they want to know the next step.

Finger patterns are a tool that children use from a very young age through elementary school to help them make a number for quantity, keep track of counts for addition and subtraction and begin using finger patterns for even more advanced strategies such as early multiplicative strategies.

Finger patterns are not meant for your child to hold on to, but to help them see a pattern that runs through the number system. Now that your child is fluent with counting, showing without having to count, making and linking numbers 1 to 10, they are ready to count numbers past 10. Please be aware that the teens are tricky and require more practice than any other family. My previous blogs with games apply and here are few suggestions to have fun while counting past 10.

1. Count things. My son loves a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. We have a counting deal. He counts all the marshmallows before putting them in the cup. I start with a number in the range of 1 to 10 so he can practice pulling the marshmallows away from the other group and linking it to a number. The key skill here is to remove each marshmallow from the pile as it is counted. This “assigns” a number to it. Please see the example video clip.
2. Make mistakes. Numbers in the teens sound very different and do not have the same rules as the other families. 21 is “twenty” and “one,” but there aren’t hints for 11 and 13. When your child makes a mistake, start from the last number they said correctly and continue counting.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Numbers are Everywhere

Early Counting and Early Reading are Equal!

While driving with my four-year-old, he started to sing the alphabet. He could say every letter and sang it in a perfect sing-song way. He loves to find letters on signs, buildings and license plates. What about numbers and counting? Why are numbers and counting not taught like the alphabet or stressed with the importance that early reading is? Counting is complex and as a parent you might not know where to start. Besides working with your child on finger patterns and getting them fluent with "firing away" their numbers 1 to 10, what else can we be doing to prepare our children much like we do with reading?

FAWFP Next Steps: Games
Board Games:
Now that your child can "fire away" finger patterns from 1 to 10 and automatically identify the numbers 1 to 10 when flashed, your child is ready to explore board games. I have made a list of board games that I use with my Math Recovery students and my own son. Things to consider when looking at board games:
1. What kind of dice does the game include? Do they have dots that my child can easily count and eventually automatically recognize?
2. Are cards included that have numbers on them to practice matching the symbol of the number and not just the quantity?
3. What does the board game look like? Are there numbers on the board, how high do the numbers go?
4. Is the board game fun and easy to play?
5. Will my child become frustrated because the level is too high or will the board game "grow" with my child?

More Game Ideas:

If you do not want to get out a board game, a deck of cards or dice will do. Kids love cards. They love holding them, dealing them out or just playing with them. Just like when your child started to hold, chew on, throw and even tear up books, let your child explore the materials that you provide for them. At first they may want to play with the cards and not name the numbers or count the dots on them. After they have had time to check out their game, sit down with them and have fun. 

Dominos: They can count the dots, make a row of dominos in order, and even play the actual game. They will love building with them. Build a domino city asking questions like, "I need a domino with 4 dots on it."

Cards:  If you decide to play go fish, take out the face cards and focus on 1 to 10. Make connections for them like, "What number did you just draw or can you count the dots on the card to find the name of the number?"

Dollar Store Junk: I know it sounds funny but the Dollar Store has great materials to practice counting. I just found an assortment of plastic dinosaurs that my son loved lining them all up, counting them and sequencing them in every other color. They have great marbles, popsicle sticks…you name it. Just keep in mind that you are looking for things to make that link with counting just like you do when looking for a good book for your child.

Barrel of Monkeys: I still remember linking the monkey’s arms together when I was little. This is a great game to take in the car. Don't forget to ask them, "How many monkeys did you link together? Can you link 5 monkeys? What happens if 1 monkey falls off?"

Snap Cubes: Snap cubes can be found at a teaching resource store. They come in an array of colors. Snap cubes are great for building, and making "number trains.” Ask your child to see how big of a train they can make with the cubes and count the cubes in the train.

Find Numbers Everywhere!

When I brought my first son home from the hospital, I remember all the cute board books I had lined up and the routine my husband and I had of reading books every night before bed. Now when we read books at night we also count anything we can in the books to making a link to numbers and reading. When we are in the car, we not only sing the alphabet, but practice counting forwards and backwards. We loves to count back from 10 to 0 and say, “Blast off.” We look for numbers on signs, buildings and license plates too. Including numbers and counting in every part of your child's life will develop their life-long learner skills and give them confidence in the classroom. It allows them to see the importance of counting and reading at a young age.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fire Away With Bunny Ears

Bunny Ears At The Park

What Are Bunny Ears™?
Bunny Ears is a Math Recovery® game to encourage fluency with finger patterns. Once a child can make their finger patterns from 1 to 10 in sight, they are ready to move their fingers out of sight or in this case, on top of their head. Kids love this game because it is silly and parents have a great time watching their child problem solve. It is a lot of fun.

How to Make Bunny Ears
1. Ask your child to put their hands in the fire away position on top of their head like a bunny.
2. Ask your child to fire away a number from 1 to 10 while keeping their fingers on top of their head.
3. Notice how your child makes their finger patterns when they are out of sight. Do they count from 1 to find the number? Do they automatically know the number? Do they pull their hands down to make the number?

How Many Ears Did You See? (Modeling bunny ears for your child)
1. Put your hands in the fire away position on top of your head like a bunny.
2. Make a number 1 to 10, keeping your fingers on top of your head.
3. Ask your child, "How many ears do you see on top of my head?"
4. Continue making different patterns on top of your head for your child. Gradually decrease the amount of time you show your bunny ears. Eventually, you should be able to just quickly flash your bunny ears and have your child identify the number.

Video of Bunny Ears

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Do Babies Count?

I was talking with a group of friends that are all using the Fire Away With Finger Patterns method with their young children. One friend told me she uses it with her one-year-old son. She said that he loved it when she said, "Fire away!" We all play games with our babies, tickling their toes, kissing them, reading books and singing songs. What about counting? How can we include them in counting? Please watch the attached video to see that babies count too!

Babies Count Too Tickle Game

I started playing this game with my 15-month-old son last week. I say and fire away finger patterns from one to five and of course follow it with lots tickling. His giggling increases with each number as he anticipates the tickle. Sometimes he tries to count along with his fingers even though he cannot talk yet! It is amazing to see them start to understand counting and quantity.

1. Fire away your finger patterns starting at one building to five.
2. Say each number as you fire away.
3. After five, tickle them all over.
4. Once they understand the game, try it without words and just use finger patterns followed by tickling.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

FAWFP #2: Solid with 1 to 5

Who Cares? Why Should I Care? Why I Care!
Thank you all of you that have sent out my Blog and continue to subscribe. I have had so many great comments and reactions that I want to address some things before moving on to the next step of FAWFP.

When I tell people that I am writing a book about finger patterns, I hear a lot of, "Why?" I decided to start talking about finger patterns because of the impact that I saw finger patterns making on my students and on my own children. The published research is very impressive too. The earlier you work with your child or even interact with your child with counting, the easier it will be for them in school. I know as a parent I want my child's career in school to be positive and as a teacher I know the feeling of seeing a child that needs to catch up. So here is one idea to help our children be prepared for school: finger patterns.

Impact on Students:
I work with first grade students that are "at risk" in mathematics. They usually cannot count from 1 to 10 when our sessions begin. We use many learning tools and finger patterns are a key element. Learning finger patterns gives them a skill that they make their own and confidence that reaches beyond mathematics. With the foundation of finger patterns, they commonly move on to count past 100, do early addition and subtraction and achieve in many areas in their classroom that were once hard for them. It is impressive to see how one simple skill improves all other areas of learning.

Impact on Young Children:
I began working with my oldest son before he turned two. I didn't sit down with him and ask him to show me patterns. That would have been almost impossible with such a busy two-year old. I found ways to incorporate numbers and finger patterns into his daily life. Before he turned three, he was making all his patterns from 1 to 10 and much more.

If you are interested enough to poke around on the web yourself, you will find these and more articles. Recent research states that when children use their fingers to solve higher-level math problems that are given in first and second grade (solving addition and subtraction problems), they are able to solve problems correctly and are performing 1 to 4 years above their grade level. Here is the link to this interesting research by Dr. Jarvis.

Question and Answer:
Alicia posted the question: "What if Paisly is a lefty? Do I start with her dominant hand or does it affect the way this program progresses?" This is a great question because most young children do tend to favor one hand. You can start by working with them on the dominant hand. Then move to the non-dominant hand. The big idea is to get them flexible with knowing how to make 1 to 5 on both hands. If you notice them only making patterns on one hand then try saying, "Fire away a 4! Now try a 4 on the other hand!"

What's Next: Solid with 1 to 5
Now that you have worked with your child to sequentially make the finger patterns from 1 to 5 on both hands, it is good to practice and make sure they are solid with their numbers from 1 to 5 on both hands. Ask you child to Fire Away random numbers from 1 to 5 on their right hand and then repeat on their left hand. Watch to see how they are making their numbers. If they are not able to make the numbers 1 to 5 randomly then go back and practice making 1 to 5 in sequential order. Remember to make counting and finger patterns fun and as soon as possible. Bring parts of their world in to create relevance in their learning.

Game: Show Me
Below is a video of FAWFP for different things that are in the range of 1 to 5. This is a great way to see if your child knows their finger patterns and if they are transferring that knowledge of counting to their finger patterns. You can play "Show Me" while riding in the car, during bath time, at the pool, or just about anywhere. So Fire Away and have fun!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Welcome to Fire Away With Finger Patterns (FAWFP)

Do you want to teach your 2 year old how to count or help your struggling students?

Would you like to give your child an early jump in mathematics? Do you have a toddler that loves to count, but you don't know how to help them? Are you an early childhood teacher and you notice your students struggling with early counting? My name is Kellie Merrill and I am a Math Recovery specialist ( and a mother of two young, energetic boys. Over the past few years, I developed a method to work with my students and my sons that may be helpful for you. I have seen first-hand with my three-year-old son, how exposing your child to early counting (as early as 2 years old) jump starts their entry into early mathematics.

I developed a process that I call, “Firing Away with Finger Patterns” to teach young children about counting and early numeracy. What can your child or student learn from finger patterns?

  • They will learn how to count!

  • They will learn how to link quantity to numbers! Warning: This may mean more negotiations for cookies, minutes until bedtime, etc..

  • The earlier you start, the better off your little counters will be! This is the basis of mathematics and is key for early numeracy development.

Why Finger Patterns?

Finger patterns are not a new concept. When I was in first grade I used my fingers to help me count, but like many of you, I was told this was not correct. So I found ways to count my fingers under my desk. Now that I am a teacher and a Math Recovery Specialist/Trainer, I have learned and seen first hand how important this simple step is to build a solid foundation for early mathematics.

The last five years I have been working with first graders as a Math Recovery specialist. My students have all been identified through assessment as struggling with early numeracy. One of the key concepts that we work on is finger patterns. I noticed that when teaching my students finger patterns, they had a hard time with holding down their fingers so I developed the Fire Away method. I found this approach to be more kid friendly and the context continues to be easy for them to grasp.

I discovered the most impressive thing about finger patterns when I began working with my son on finger patterns, who is now 4, when he was 2. Right around his 2nd birthday I started asking him how old he was. I first showed him how to make a fist then had him Fire Away a 1. He caught on to the 1 very quickly, but moving to 2 was really hard especially on little hands. Once he understood how to hold down the other three fingers and practiced showing me how old he was, moving from 2 to 3 was easier.

When Should I Start Finger Patterns?

I am now working with my 13 month old on making a 1. I know realistically it is the last thing he wants to do. He would rather be crawling or eating dirt, but I have started to lay down the foundation of counting by just showing him 1. He is around his big brother who is now hooked on finger patterns and makes them all day long. My older son really started to grasp making patterns right around his second birthday. For early elementary school age children, reviewing how to make finger patterns can only help them with advancing their skills to higher levels of solving problems.

How Do I Start?

The biggest thing I have noticed about teaching my own son is incorporating his world into learning his finger patterns. Such as making his age on his fingers, how many stories he wants at bedtime or even how much more time left he has to play. Watch the video below to see how Dylan is now making his finger patterns. Remember he has been doing this for a few years now, but you can start the same way.

Getting Started: Making 1 to 5 on Right and Left Hands

  • Make a fist on your right hand with the thumb holding all the fingers snuggly down on top of the nail beds.

  • Tell your child to “Fire Away” a 1 (this gives them the hint to release only 1 finger while the others are still held down waiting to be fired)

  • Continue this same pattern from 1 to 5 on the right hand then switch making 1 to 5 on the left hand.

What is next?

Practice, practice, practice and stay tuned to this site for the next step in counting where we start to link what we are doing with our fingers to the world around us. If you have any question or would like to get ahead, please email me at

Thank you!