What can you do with a group of kids, corrogated cardboard, a lot of beads, pipe cleaners, and some masking or decorative duct tape?  Make abaci, of course!

With a little bit of preliminary work, this is a craft program that even pre-schoolers can master.  The tools I used in my program were:

–  6″ x 6″ corrogated cardboard (2-3 pieces glued together with the “tunnels” running perpendicular to one another) If using 3 layers, I make sure the center layer has the vertical channels.  That way the pipe cleaners can be thread into the channels and be centered in the abacus.

–  10 6″ pipe cleaners (per participant)

–  Either 50 or 60 pony beads (or other beads that will fit on the pipe cleaners) (per participant)

Ahead of time I cut two windows in the cardboard – one 1″ x 4″ and one 3.5″ x 4″ with a .75″ section of cardboard left in tact between the windows, and a 1″ border all around the square.  I also counted out the beads and pipe cleaners into cups before the program.

Here are some images to give you an idea about what the frame should look like:

The participating children had a wonderful time being creative with their new toys.  The older ones quickly learned how to add and subtract using their own abaci, the younger ones learned basic counting, and parents left with a new way to help their children practice math skills.  Everyone had a great (and educational) time!

For more information on Chinese and Japanese abaci, and how to use them, check out these sites:

Virtual European Abacus at Calculino

Abacus:  Mystery of the Bead – A guide to the history and a tutorial for the use of the soroban abacus, or the ones with a single bead above the beam.

Guide to the Use of the Suanpan Tutorial for the suanpan, or Chinese abacus, which has two beads above the central beam.

Guide to the Horizontal Abacus

How to Use an Abacus to Teach Kids Math