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Abacus How To Help Your Toddler Learn to Count

Updated on August 26, 2010

How to use an abacus: Which Abacus have I got?

I have just bought an abacus and I realised that, aside from them being attractive toys, I didn't know the first thing about how to use one. A bit of research told me that since the abacus I bought looks similar to the one in the large picture below, that I have what is known as a school abacus. These are typically used as tools to assist children in improving their math or simply as toys.

The traditional Russian abacus is also based on a horizontal format, while an abacus on which the beads go vertically rather than horizontally is more likely to be a Chinese or Japanese abacus. The much-viewed You Tube video above shows how adept it is possible to become using an abacus to do math. Some Japanese children are able to do six figure calcuations quicker than it is possible to do on a calculator.

Anyway, returning to school abaci, I realised I wasn't even sure how to use even a basic abacus. There are ten rows of ten beads, so one hundred beads in total. If each bead equals one point then you have a simple 1-100.

If, on the other hand, moving beads from left to right, the top row measures 1-10, the second row 10-100 (each bead equals ten points), the third row 100-1000 (each bead equals 100 points) and so on, then what figure does the drawing below signify? I make it two hundred (two red beads) and fifty (five blue beads) three (three yellow beads).

(I don't actually know from my research if this method is the way to use an abacus (school version), and I would be interested to hear from anyone who does.)

Either way, you have a brightly-colored, attractive, rattly toy to give to a toddler. Developing an interest in numbers in a sutble way, by introducing an abacus early, is a great step on the ladder to counting. There are many ways for parents to keep children interested in the abacus, whilst at the same time, helping them with the concept of numeracy eventually leading to counting.

Buy an abacus for under $10.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Make a pattern with the beads on the row (four left, six right for example), and get your child to copy the pattern.
  • Move beads individually across to the right, counting as you go, and encourage your child to imitate the number of beads on the row below.
  • As they get accustomed to the above games, move some beads across and ask them how many you have moved.
  • Sing songs which involve counting in time with you moving beads across on the abacus.

Your child will grow to love the games and the time you spend together playing them.

Once your child has mastered the basics of one bead equals one point, you can move on to the ones, tens, hundreds (and so on) system and for any game which involves point scoring, use the abacus.  In fact, it can become a family tool and you can ditch the notepads for sums altogether.   Little quizzes asking "what number is it?" are great fun and really help children to grasp the concept.

So, in this way, you will find that your toddler will show more interest in math and begin to count and develop problem-solving skills early.


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    • Twins Mum profile image

      Twins Mum 6 years ago

      I haven't heard of this, but I´ll be interested in knowing more. Thanks for the comment and the link.

    • profile image

      Lucy 6 years ago

      I have used a Rekenrek ,

      rather than an abacus with my children. Using this along with and ten frames