Have each child in your class make their own abacus for pennies. Then let them use it as they learn arithmetic.

Materials Needed Per Student

  1. 60 "pony" beads (from a craft store)
  2. 6 10-inch bamboo skewers (from a housewares store)
  3. 1 cardboard base (see below)

Preparation Of Cardboard Bases

  1. Collect and flatten a bunch of corrugated cardboard. Cut two 8x10" pieces of cardboard for each child in your class. A paper cutter works well for this.
  2. Cut one of the pieces into 6 strips as shown in Figure 1.
  3. Glue 3 strips on top of each other and to the top of the second 8x10" piece of cardboard (Figure 2). Tacky glue (from craft stores) works well for this. Note the direction of the ridges in the cardboard. This is very important because the skewers must slide into the ridges.
  4. Glue the remaining 3 strips to the bottom.

Figure 1. Cut 6 strips of equal size. Figure 2. Glue 3 strips on top of each other at each end. Figure 3. Push a skewer through holes in cardboard. Figure 4. String 10 beads on each skewer.


  1. Put the beads in bowls or flat containers and have each child select 60 beads. Each stick will get 10 beads, 5 of each of 2 colors. All of the sticks can use the same color scheme or they can be different.
  2. Give each child one base and 6 skewers.
  3. The kids should write their names on the back of their abacus.
  4. Slide a skewer through one of the "tubes" at the bottom of the abacus. Put 10 beads on it. Then slide the end of the skewer through one of the "tubes" at the top of the abacus.
  5. Do this for all 6 skewers.
  6. If the skewers are loose, put a strip of masking tape over each end to keep them from sliding out.
  7. Have the kids label the abacus with the place values (1's, 10's, 100's, 1000's, 10000's, 100000's) if you like.

For examples on how to use the abacus, click here.