How to Use the Melissa & Doug Abacus

The abacus is a counting machine that has been used for centuries. The appearance and features of the abacus have evolved through the years, giving birth to the calculator and the computer. In some schools, the abacus is still used to teach young students to add, subtract, multiply and even divide. The Melissa and Doug Abacus are made specifically for children and can help improve their math skills 1.

Establish that each row of beads is equal to a number column. The first row represent numbers 1 through 10 or the “ones” row.

Move all the yellow beads on the ones row left to right to add any amount where the sum is 10 or less. Move the row of beads to the left hand side as far as they will go. If you want to add 2 plus 5, move two of the yellow beads to the right hand side. Now move five more beads next to the two beads. Count all the beads you moved to the right and you will have a total of seven beads.

Move all the beads on the ones and tens rows to the left side of the abacus. Add 8 plus 7 as an example. Move eight yellow beads from the first row to the right. Move the last two beads to the right as well. Point out to the child that there are no more beads but you still have to add five more beads to be able to add 8 plus 7.

Move the first bead on the second or tens row to the right and return all the beads on the bottom row to the left. Tell the child that each time you move a bead on the second row or the tens row, you need to move the beads on the first row back to the left side. The green bead that you moved will represent the first 10 beads that you moved from the first row. You still need to add the remaining five beads from the seven that you need to add. Move five yellow beads from the first row to the right. Now you have one bead in the tens row and five beads in the ones row. So 10 plus 5 is 15.

Practice doing different examples using small numbers at first and build up to numbers involving tens, hundreds, thousands, hundred thousands and even more than a million.


Do not rush your child or give him examples that he is not ready to do yet. Make it fun for him by adding things he is familiar with such as jelly beans or use his friends’ and family’s names in the examples.


This is a toy for children who are old enough and do not put things in the mouth. The beads are small and if they are pulled off can be a choking hazard.