A while ago I posted about making a homemade soroban for my kids out of a Melissa & Doug abacus. The bead size of a traditional abacus was just too small to be truly effective for my son, age 3. My daughter did alright with a small abacus, but in general bigger is still better with my kids while they are young. It makes the learning more “obvious.”
Recently I came across a video from a fellow YouTube Mom who demonstrated the Montessori way of teaching place value through layered cards. So I got inspired and stayed up a little bit late to make a set of my own. I happened to have a few stacks of blank “Word Strips” from the Dollar Tree laying around. They have traditional lines on one side and they are blank on the other. I chose to use the blank side because I figured it would be less distracting. You can cut your own cards from cardstock or poster board, but I found it to be much easier to just have to cut the length.
Initially, I thought about nice they would be if I printed them in color on the computer, used my paper cutter (which is packed away at the moment), laminated them, etc… and then I realized that a DONE project is better than a PERFECT project! So I whipped it out in just an hour or two and while it’s not perfect, it’s still effective and that’s what matters.
I color-coded mine in Do Re Mi colors since my kids are already familiar with the sequence and I figured it would help them remember the order better. The cards weren’t long enough for some of the bigger numbers, so I wrote on them first and then used packing tape to tape them together. They are relatively sturdy.
I included a small chart to set next to it to simplify reading the columns. My kids knew some of these already, but not up to a million. I measured out two-inch lines to create a guide, which I laid next to each card as I wrote on it. It’s important that each column is covered up properly when layering the cards so the numbers needed to be sorta-kinda straight and evenly spaced. 🙂
Lately we have been practicing more skip counting with the kids using Little Math and reinforcing the lessons with our abacus. We also use some youtube videos, as well. There are a few learning playlists available on my channel, including skip counting, at www.youtube.com/teachingmytoddlers.
While you can count with any manipulatives or household items, what I like about the abacus was that there is no mess to clean up afterward. However, the abacus just didn’t seem to be as effective as it could be.
I decided a long time ago I should paint it, but I finally buckled down and took a few hours out of my morning to actually do it. I used one of the kids’ paintbrushes and it’s definitely a mediocre, amateur paint job. I suppose I could have just replaced the beads with colored beads from a craft store, but instead, I used what I had on hand didn’t cost me a cent out of pocket.
It started out looking like this-
I originally started to paint it with the beads on, I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to go through the hassle of trying to take the thing apart. However, right away I could tell that it was going to be a pain and was better off taking it apart. Turns out, it only required a screwdriver and about a minute to easily disassemble it.
Plus, this allowed me to separate the beads to paint the lighter colored beads yellow and the darker colored beads blue. I slid them on bamboo barbeque skewers to dry and spray with a clear coat. I could have used any color paint I suppose, but I chose Right Start colors in case I decided to use their iPhone/iPad app or official workbooks in the future things would match.
The results of this paint job were profound and instantaneous! I highly recommend dismantling a rainbow abacus you may have at home to paint or slide on new beads. It really helps my kids learn to think in 5’s and 10’s and it also helps ME teach more effectively when sliding the beads around for skip counting.
It is sooooo much easier to count on this thing now! The kids’ interest in math has risen dramatically from just a few coats of paint. It was time well spent and I only regret not doing it sooner. It’s perfect to let my daughter use it to help her solve equations in her early learning math workbooks. It’s so sturdy that I have no qualms about letting the kids play with it until their heart’s content and today Lily was happily “teaching Daddy.” Here is the finished product:
Just the other day I decided to do this again, this time modifying a Melissa & Doug Abacus into a Japanese soroban. It’s not ideal, but they are traditionally just a bit too small for my son’s hands right now as he is still building up his fine motor skills more and more every day (he’s almost 3). I had to enlist my husband’s help as a handyman but of course, I did all the painting. They were infinitely easier to paint with spraypaint! And although it’s difficult to tell in the picture, they look soooo much prettier compared to the first one where I used a paintbrush. Here’s the finished product-
I painted the beads to match the www.MathSecret.com bead colors. You can download their e-book and practice on the web-based program for 10 minutes daily at no cost. Simply create an account and then add multiple students in it so each child’s progress is tracked separately for the timed tests on each level. “However, do NOT get their “free, you only pay to ship, too good to be true” abacus. It’s JUNK.