Make an Abacus: Supporting Understanding of Placement Value

Learn how to make your own abacus for students with visual impairments!

This week, I would like to share an idea that I used to support a child who found it difficult to grasp the concept of units, tens and hundreds. I made her an abacus, with vertical poles and the difference to her understanding improved immensely. Since then I have used this approach with a number of children with really positive results. Here I explain how to make the abacus.

Making an abacus

You need:

  • 4 dowelling sticks cut to the same length and long enough to take your beads
  • 36 beads divided into 4 sets, each set of beads to feel different e.g. tubular, square, oval with a groove, oval with a flat band around.
  • A piece of wood long enough to take the four poles
  • Small amount of sticky back Braille

What to do:

  • Cut the four poles to the same length each long enough to accommodate 9 beads (Tip take the beads to the store to check they fit over the dowelling!)
  • Cut the base board to a size long enough to take your four poles
  • Drill four holes to fit the width of each pole
  • Braille labels: units, tens, hundreds and thousands and stick at the base of each pole in front of each hole
  • Position your poles in the base board
  • Add on your beads

Your abacus is ready for use!

Further shared ideas and inspiration are shared at

Make your own abacus