It is curious that, at the height of the consolidation of New Technologies in our lives, where educational tools such as tablets, electronic books, and computer games are no longer strange, an accounting instrument invented thousands of years ago is once again drawing attention: the abacus.
Why is the abacus so important?
Because the abacus is one of the most complete tools that exist to develop the potential of children and, at the same time, teach them to perform basic calculations using it.
Precisely in these times, dominated by technology and where we all have calculators at hand, on our mobile or computer, practicing calculation with the abacus is one of the best activities that your child can do to complete this specific skill that is being forgotten.
Using the abacus you can not only perform addition and subtraction, as many people know but also multiply, divide, calculate roots and powers. With the advantage that knowing how to handle it correctly, it would take much less time than using the classic algorithms that we were taught in school.
What mathematical operations can be performed with the abacus?
The abacus was invented thousands of years ago and allows advanced mathematical operations simply by giving different weights or values to each of the balls or tokens depending on the position they occupy. What we call balls or chips is also called beads or toroidal elements. We will call them tokens.
Types of existing abacuses
Different types and classes of abacus evolved from the original abacus, which is named after the country in which they were used:
Chinese abacus or Suan-pan
It is made up of vertical rods, where each of the rods crosses two areas, in the upper one there are two toroidal elements or tokens, in the lower one there are five.
Japanese abacus or soroban
It is an evolution of the Chinese abacus, it had the same arrangement of tiles but one from the upper area and one from the bottom were eliminated, leaving one and four tiles. This allowed the most basic mathematical operations to be performed more quickly. This is the most effective, popular abacus that we will focus on later.
Unlike the previous ones, it is made up of horizontal rods, with ten pieces without any type of separation zone between them. Only, in some abaci, the two central tiles have different colors to help visually manipulate them.
How is the calculation done with the abacus?
Zero on the abacus is achieved with all the tiles in the upper and lower area away from the central bar, also called the results bar.
To add units, we must push the tabs located on the first vertical rod towards the results bar, starting from the right.
At the bottom there are four tiles, if we raise a tile we have a one, if we raise another we have a two, so on until we reach four because at the bottom there are only four tiles.
The token worth five units is at the top. Therefore, we lower this one and we lower the four chips that we had raised before. If we need a seven, we will have the chip in the upper zone, which is worth five, in the central results zone, and two chips in the lower zone, with a unit value, also in the central zone.
What skills or benefits do you develop with the abacus?
The calculation using the abacus allows us to relax our mind, approach the calculation from a different perspective than our rigid classical algorithm learned in school. In addition, the calculation speed is increased, since by using physical elements we better visualize the mathematical operation.
Apart from the fact that the use of abacus allows it to face considerable calculation challenges, it provides many more advantages, depending on how we approach its handling. The most complete exercise is when mathematical operations are carried out without the use of a physical abacus but by means of a mental or imaginary one. These are all the advantages or skills that are developed with the abacus:
● It trains mental resistance and concentration as it is a very demanding activity in cognitive resources. It requires mindfulness during this period of time and this is trained.
● If you choose to dictate mathematical operations to the child, in this case, we reinforce auditory retention and memory, expanding another horizon.
● It forces you to reconstruct all the movements of pieces up and down in the mind, reinforcing the spatial orientation.
● Develops visual or photographic visualization and memory by having to remember the position of the tiles and the calculation to be performed. This exercise is very useful to “think in pictures” and to stimulate the visual learning that we talk about so much here.
● Develops manual skills or fine motor skills by handling beads at high speed.
● It is suitable for the blind or children with visual problems, they can feel the beads, manipulate them and compose the scene or mathematical operation.
● It allows to development of greater interhemispheric integration, both cerebral hemispheres work at the same time coordinated. Both the left (logical, analytical, and methodical), and the right (creative and imaginative).
● It makes mathematics easier to learn by stopping abstracting it and turning it into something physical that they can manipulate. In fact, the abacus was the main instrument with which mathematics was taught during ancient times. Currently, in Japan, it is still used in shops in towns where the technology has not yet arrived.
● And in general, it develops mental capacities and faculties, thus reinforcing self-esteem.
After all of the above, you now understand why we consider this activity as one of the most complete that exists for our children and why we recommend it.