Thursday, September 17, 2009

More than just counting - with a Bajo abacus

An abacus is a strange toy. We see them and know they are educational, but then they rarely get played with or used for anything except basic counting... 1,2,3,4,5... Often an abacus is bought for a toddler who enjoy sliding the beads around for a while, but then it gets tossed in the toy box and forgotten. This is unfortunate, because an abacus is a great tool for early learning.

Bajo Wooden Bead Abacus

And here is Linnea sliding beads around :0)

Actually, Linnea first told me the colors of the beads. She's a little uncertain about some colors (and when she doesn't know, she says "purple", so we've been doing a lot of color identification to build up her confidence. And then we counted each color 1..2..3.....10! Pretty simple. When she gets older, we'll be able to count all the way to 100. She also got to work on her motor skills when she moved each bead, one at a time, by herself.

But, the abacus can do so much more for Arielle. I've been bringing it out when she does her math. Over the summer, Arielle mastered counting to 100 and learned counting by tens. The abacus is an easy way to illustrate how this works. We counted the individual beads and saw, yes, counting by tens really does work!

This week, Arielle learned about tens and ones. We used the colored beads to represent tens and when we needed to, the top row of plain beads to represent ones. A concept that was confusing on paper made a lot more sense when she could see it and touch it. Here we have two tens and four ones.

Linnea helps out and Arielle showed her how to add. An abacus is great for early adding. When seeing 3+2 on paper gets frustrating, I ask "If you have three blue beads and two green beads, how many beads do you have?" Although Linnea is far closer to "Here are three red beads, can you show me three orange beads?"

I'm thinking the abacus will be especially handy for subtraction and when we start adding numbers greater than ten.

A serious Arielle finishing up her homework.

This abacus is unusual in that it is comprised of two sets of beads. Fifty colored beads on one side and fifty natural wood beads on the other. This really allows the abacus to be used at different skill levels. The rows of red, orange, yellow, green and blue beads. are useful for early adding, keeping track of placement and introducing concepts. The natural beads are more challenging. The visual reinforcement really helps children understand and master new mathematical skills.

Arielle turned five last month, so she is just starting math. For now, I help her use the abacus to visualize problems when she gets frustrated. Soon, I'll say "Try it on the abacus." She will learn to do this herself, and she'll develop independence, problem-solving skills and self-confidence.

This abacus, like all Bajo are made in Poland of locally grown wood and are finished with child-safe, non-toxic lacquers. The abacus is large, the folded dimensions are 10.0 x 10.0 x 4.0 inches. And the 3/4 inch beads are also larger and easy to grasp. Oompa also offers an inexpensive twenty piece abacus ($13.99) perfect for younger children and a more traditional looking 100 piece abacus ($37.99).

Right now, they have a small wooden abacus with one row of five whole beads and one row of ten half beads on sale ($15.99). While not as versatile as the large abacus, I bought one because it is a nice size for teaching toddlers counting and colors, but can be used again later to explain halves and how to add them. And, sometimes, Linnea needs to feel included while Arielle works.

Check out Oompa for a full selection of early learning toys. Happy counting!

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