The abacus is one of the main tools used in mental arithmetic classes.

Some of you are probably wondering what is an abacus? How can it be used for complex arithmetic calculations? Read this article to learn more about the abacus and its history.

Abacus or abac (from Greek – calculation board) is a device used for arithmetic calculations, invented centuries BC.

Originally, it presented a clay plate with furrows where small stones were put to indicate digits. One furrow served for units, the other one served for tens, thousands, etc. as they contained objects that denoted numbers, such as rocks (for example). To this day, an abacus could be called any object that can be used to perform arithmetic calculations in the decimal system.

The idea of this type of calculator is to have a special field for calculations, where the elements that represent numbers (for example, balls or rocks) are placed and moved according to a certain model.

Over time, with the emergence of new modern devices, the use of the abacus has been pushed back, giving way to modern calculators. However, the counting methods such as mental arithmetic became widespread again. In modern times, abacuses are used to teach elementary school children to count because this method is preferable pedagogically over electronic calculators and written calculations.

History of origin

There are several versions of the origin of the abacus. According to some sources, such a board first appeared in Mesopotamia (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey) about the 4th century BC. Back in old days for an abacus people used a table or a wooden board covered in dust or sand so that lines could be drawn on it with a stick.

According to another version, the creator of the abacus was the ancient Greek scientist called Abak, after whom the abacus was named after. According to historical records, this type of abacus was used for arithmetic operations in ancient cultures like Greece, Rome, India, Egypt, and many others.

The creation of a device that resembles a modern abacus is attributed to the inhabitants of ancient China. Its original name was Suan-Pan and it was based on a different counting principle. It looked like a small box of a prolonged shape divided into unequal parts lengthwise with boards and sticks with beads on them were placed crosswise.


An abacus consists of an odd number of vertical strings. Each string represents a digit. The number positions are numerated from the end of the number and are situated in the following way: hundreds – tens – units. The abacus usually has 13 strings, but larger abacuses can be found with 21, 23, 27, or even 31 strings. An abacus with many strings can operate large numbers or two smaller numbers at the same time.

Each string holds 5 beads, with the top bead of each string being separated from the rest four beads with a frame.
The four lower beads are called ground beads, and each represents a unit. The top bead is called the sky bead and equals five ground beads.

There are special signs on the frame of the abacus – in the form of black, white, or colored dots (their color depends on the color of the abacus itself). These labels show the location of units, tens, thousands, millions, etc.

The modern abacus differs externally from its distant predecessor, but the principle of calculation remains the same over time. With the help of the abacus, it is possible to perform various mathematical operations – from solving simple calculations such as addition and subtraction to multiplication, division, and even rooting.

Benefits of using an abacus

The SmartyKids mental arithmetic program is a unique program of well-balanced development of thinking and creative abilities of children that aims at a more profound release of their intellectual and creative potential.

Using an abacus has several advantages over using the modern calculator. The main advantage is the ability to perform arithmetic operations mentally as the calculations are performed with two hands, improving the work of both hemispheres of the brain.

Activation of the two hemispheres of the brain leads to the formation of neural connections. This improves short-term and long-term memory as well as concentration and non-standard thinking.

Working with an abacus significantly improves fine motor skills, which contributes to the overall development of the child’s intellect.
In the first stage of mental arithmetic classes, kids use an abacus to learn to count, and on the further stage of learning, they perform calculations mentally just imagining the abacus. This leads to a significant improvement in children’s imagination.

Let’s summarize the benefits of mental arithmetic:

✅Improvement of the child’s imagination and creative potential;
✅Formation of neural connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain;
✅Development of complex skills in mental calculations;
✅Increasing the speed of information processing;
✅Increase in concentration, attention, memory, hearing, and observation.

If you want to see for yourself the benefits of mental arithmetic for a child’s intellect, sign up for a FREE demo lesson.

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