Abacus counting: how to do calculations the Japanese way


If you have picked up an abacus from a thrift store and watched your toddler play with the beads, like I have, and wondered if that's all there is to it, read on.

Using an abacus ("soroban"), that ancient calculator of Asian cultures, you can add up, take away, do division and multiplication up to a billion. And it's really not complicated; all you need is a bit of time and concentration to get the basics down.

What I love about it is how it demonstrates how maths is more than numbers on a sheet of paper. There are so many different ways of getting to the correct answer because numbers work in patterns, and patterns are wild and wonderful things. Once you start thinking of numbers and groups of numbers in a more creative way, maths could become real fun!

Also read: Finger counting: how Indian kids can do complex mental maths using finger calculations

For a nice, basic introduction, Eddy Hood from Ignite Spot, and accountancy firm in Utah, takes us through the 1-2-3s of abacus calculations.

Got it? So this abacus has 10 coloured beads on an open rod. The more traditional abacus is switched onto its side and comprises columns of 7 wooden beads, with a wooden slat separating the top two beads from the five below. Once you've mastered this one, you could use the abacus with 4 beads below and 1 bead above the slat.

Here Pelle Lindblå explains how the 5+2 abacus works:

Melanie Hoffman further demonstrates multidigit additions:


If you get this, you may want to delve deeper.

If you're interested, there are some great further videotorials on YouTube. For inspiration, see how a class of Japanese school kids in action!

Do your kids use an abacus to do calculations? Where did they learn to do so? Do you think it's worth teaching kids? Share your comments with us at chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them.

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