Abacus for Preschool Math

I purchased The Classic Wooden Abacus from Melissa and Doug a few months back to start “formally” teaching my four year old some early math.  He took to it right away. Children love to play with the abacus because of its beautiful color and the texture of the beads. Not only are they fun to look at and play with, but there are so many early math activities that can be done with an abacus.


Basic Counting –  For toddlers and preschoolers, counting the beads on an abacus is engaging and a great hands-on way to work on this fundamental early math skill. My four old likes to count to 100 and count backwards down to zero. There are also simple games you can play together to help kids become better counters.

  1. Match My Move. Begin with all the beads on every row all on the same side. Then, on the top row, move any number of beads to the other side of the frame and ask your child to match your move on the row below.
  2. Counting Game. From the starting position, move a number of beads on one row from one side to the other. Then ask your child to count how many beads you moved and how many beads you left.

Simple Addition & Subtraction –  Preschoolers can use an abacus for a variety of addition and subtraction activities.  The beads on an abacus provide a great manipulative that helps them to better understand the concepts of addition and subtraction.

To teach simple addition, like 3+2=?, you would move three beads over to the left. Then, place a finger after those three beads and add two more. Remove your finger and have your child add the quantities by pushing the beads together and counting. To teach simple subtraction, just reverse this process. My four year old is able to move the beads by himself if I write simple addition and subtraction problems out for him on paper.




Skip Counting –  Counting by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s is so much more fun (and easier to understand!) with an abacus.  Today while we were counting by 10’s, my four year old said, “mommy, 80 is 8 sets of 10!”

Designs & Patterns –  Use the abacus beads to make patterns and designs- this is something that toddlers and preschoolers can both enjoy.

Teaching Money– Treat each bead of the abacus as if it is a penny, with 100 beads equaling one dollar. Five beads is a nickel and a row of 10 is a dime. You can even arrange the beads into four groups of 25 to represent four quarters.

Do you use an abacus with your child? What are your favorite activities?




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