There is something satisfying about pushing the beads along a string or wire -- and besides, with an abacus, all the little pieces stay in the abacus-- not ending up scattered on the floor, in a crawling baby's mouth, or finding their way to unusual locations all around the house.
Although the abacus was originally a Chinese counting system that is a bit more complex than the ten rows of ten beads that we've used, the term "abacus" has been borrowed to describe the simpler type, also.
We used a 100-bead abacus for kids in K-2nd grade. And for preschoolers, we found that offering a 10-bead abacus was just right; they might know how to count much higher, but when adding and subtracting they were using just numbers up to 10. And giving them a 10-bead abacus made doing their math activities so easy, successful, and enjoyable.
There are many versions of the 100-bead abacus available in stores, but it can be difficult to find one that is only 10-beads.
The first one we used was a homemade abacus, made with a metal coat hanger.
We used this type for many years (with several of our preschoolers), and the kids loved it! It was a little bit tricky to make, but very sturdy and worked great. This abacus has very large wooden beads (the type used by preschoolers for stringing). Instructions for how to assemble a coat hanger abacus are given in Gentle Shepherd's Preschool Math: Number Tiles (also there are lots of different work pages in this ebook, to be printed out and used with "number tiles" for simple adding and subtracting).
In a recent journey online, I came across a unique type of wooden abacus. This one can be 10-bead, or 20-bead, or 30-bead, or . . . up to 100-bead. The individual 10 bead sections are stackable, so they can be used in any combination or individually. This looks like a great option for a preschool, and/or early elementary abacus. It is sold by www.imaginechildhood.com.
For more info take a look at this blog post about it: http://blog.imaginechildhood.com/imagine-childhood/2014/09/-our-favorite-things-.html
Allthetimelearning. One advantage to this soft abacus is that it can be folded or rolled up-- so it would be easy to travel with, tucked away in a bag or even in a purse.
You may find ideas for other types of abacuses to make-- for example, using cereal loops on a string or building a very large version using rings from a baby's plastic stacking toy . . . but no matter which version is used, the abacus is a learning tool that is very useful and helps kids learn math in one more way; besides thinking and seeing, they are also touching the beads. Using the tactile sense is especially helpful for kinesthetic learners, but also can make doing math problems easier and more fun for any young learner.
If you're looking for a joyful math experience for young children, give the 10-bead abacus a try!