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How to Use an Abacus: Counting


Contrary to popular belief, using the abacus is not an ancient complicated art form where you have to meditate and be the abacus before you can use this tool.


It is easy to use and an activity for you to do together with your child.


How to Count Using an Abacus

Counting with an abacus is a simple and effective way to do basic math. To start, you will need to understand the abacus' structure and how to use it.


The abacus is made up of columns of beads, with each column representing a different place value.


Upper Deck :

The upper deck of beads represents the number five.


Lower Deck :

The lower deck represents the number one.


Columns (arranged from Ones, to Tens, Hundreds, etc.):

The centre column represents units, the column to its left represents tens, the column to the left of that represents hundreds, and so on. The column to the right of the centre column represents decimals to the order of tenths, hundredths, thousandths, and so on.


The beads in each column are moved up or down to indicate the number of units from 1 to 9. The abacus is set to zero if all the beads in the lower deck are pushed down, and the beads in the upper deck are pushed up.


Let’s try to count!

To count with an abacus, simply move the beads up and down the column to represent the numbers you are working with. The centre column represents the ones units, as you move to the left column the unit becomes ten times more.


To start counting, set the abacus to zero. We need to start at the rightmost column to be able to count one digit numbers. This is called the ones column.

  • To count ‘1’, push one bead up from the lower deck to the beam with your right thumb.

  • To count ‘2’, push two beads up from the lower deck to the beam with your right thumb.

  • To count ‘3’, push three beads up from the lower deck to the beam with your right thumb.

  • To count ‘4’, push four beads up from the lower deck to the beam with your right thumb.

  • To count ‘5’, push down the one bead from the upper deck to the beam with your right index finger.


Counting in 2 digits

Now that we can count 1-digit numbers, let’s try to count 2-digit numbers.


For example, numbers 10 to 12


Since there are not enough beads in the first column, let’s move to the second column. We call this the ‘tens column.’

  • To count ‘10’, set your abacus to zero. It means you have to push all the beads in the lower deck down and push the bead in the upper deck up. When the abacus is set to zero, push one bead from the lower deck in the tens column up, and you get a value of ‘10’.

  • To count 11, simultaneously push one bead up from the ones column with your right thumb and push one bead up from the tens column with your left thumb.

  • To count 12, simultaneously push two beads up from the ones column with your right thumb and push one bead up from the tens column with your left thumb.


Now that we can count one-digit and two-digit numbers, you can also count three-digit, four-digit, five-digit numbers, and so on. The higher the digits the more you have to move a column to the left. With practice, you can assign any number in the abacus at ease.


Let’s try to be creative and represent the number 6382 using abacus!

Again, to start counting the abacus should be set to zero. 6382 is a four-digit number. It consists of six thousands, three hundreds, eight tens, and two ones. Therefore, we need the thousands column, hundreds column, tens column, and ones column.


  • To count ‘6000’, push one bead up from the lower deck and push one bead down from the upper deck in the thousands column.

  • To count ‘300’, push three beads up from the lower deck in the hundreds column.

  • To count ‘80’, push three beds up from the lower deck and push one bead down from the upper deck in the tens column.

  • To count ‘2’, push two beads up from the lower deck in the ones column.

Total beads value is 6000+300+80+2 = 6382


How we can help!

Using an abacus is a great way to improve your child’s mental math skills, and it can be used by people of all ages. Mentalmatics provides a fun way to train mental math skills and can help your child become a faster and more accurate mathematician. With practice, your child can become an abacus master in no time.


So why not give it a try? Who knows, your child might just surprise yourself with his or her newfound math skills!


To find out more, make a reservation to talk to us from the link below!



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