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How to Use an Abacus to Help Teach Children Math

Updated April 17, 2017

Learning math with an abacus will prepare young children for writing numbers later in their education. An abacus allows children to conceptualise math formulas by working with tangible objects. They can also be fun for the children to complete novice calculations before graduating to more complicated formulas. An abacus is particularly valuable at teaching kids the concept of tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and so forth.

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  1. Tell the child to add two plus four. Have her slide two beads to the opposite side of the abacus from where they currently sit. Slide four more beads over next to those two beads. Ask her what the total is. She will then count the beads and come to the conclusion of six.

  2. Tell him to subtract five by three. Have him slide five beads to the right of the abacus and then slide three beads back. Ask him what remains. He should count two beads.

  3. Teach her to use greater numbers by showing that each level of beads represents a higher division of numbers. For example, the first layer represents zero to nine, the second represents zero to 90, the third represents zero to 900, the fourth represents zero to 9,000, the fifth represents zero to 90,000, and so on.

  4. Have her subtract 65 from 89. She must line up the beads in a way that represents 89. The first layer will have nine, and the second layer will have eight. Take five away from the first layer, for a remainder of four. Take six away from the second layer for a remainder of 2. The final number is now is 24.

  5. Ask him to add 65 to 89. He'll need to represent 89 on the abacus. The first layer will have nine and the second layer will have eight. Start with the first layer and add five to nine. In this case, the result is 14 so a number will carry over because it goes beyond nine. Add one to the next layer to put it at nine. Put the first layer to four to represent the "4" in "14." Add six from the original 65 to the second row for 15. There is another carry-over number, so increase the next row by one and then decrease the second row to five, to represent the five in 15. The resulting beads represent 154.

  6. Warning

    If Beads fall off the abacus, small children could be at risk of choking on the beads. Always practice adult supervision with young children.

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About the Author

Sheri Lamb has been a reporter since 2006 in community newspapers throughout Canada. While she has covered virtually every beat associated with community newspapers, Lamb specializes in sports. In addition to her skills as a reporter, Lamb holds a certificate in computer programming. She also runs a small catering company.

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