How to make a Chinese Counting Set

Inspired by the Chinese abacus (which they called suànpán) I adapted the Montessori Teens Board to create our own little counting set.  My objective is to teach the teens.

I had my students make their own set today.  They loved it!  I think it is so powerful to let them make their own materials whenever it is possible.  This gives them ownership!

Each Counting Set has two 10’s strands (black), two 5’s strands (red), and 10 ones (gold), plus a counting mat, number cards and a drawstring bag for the beads.  I used the colors that brought the mood of China to this activity.
Here’s what you will need: 1 piece of glitter foam (I purchased the largest size and cut it into fourths), pony beads in black, red and gold, gold pipecleaners, and a small drawstring bag.
Preparation of Materials:  I set up the materials to make the construction as simple as possible.  I precut the pipecleaners (I cut the 10 strand 5 inches long and the 5 strand 3 inches long.  This gave room for the children to make the end loops.  If you make the set, it will not need to be this long.)  I laid out each child’s materials so that it would be clear when I gave them the instructions.
Making the strands:   I told the children that the “black beads on tall, red on the small” in regards to the pipecleaners.  I repeated this several times.  I also demonstrated how to make a loop and twist on the end of the pipecleaner.  I walked the children through the first strand.  I set them loose to make the 2 black strands and 2 red strands, put them in their bags and count 10 gold beads into the bag.
I talked a little about how we can call the 10 strand just “ten” and the 5 strand just “five” and the single gold bead “one.”  Tomorrow we will begin to put out the number cards and explore how tens, fives and ones make the numbers 1-20.  We will concentrate on 11-20.  Be clear! This is not the full Montessori method!  I am adapting the idea for my situation.  For a free print out of the number cards and more information on the Montessori method of counting with ten and teen boards check out this link: Teen and Ten Board.

Did you enjoy this post?
Then stick around!

Join the Fairy Dust community and get email updates, tips, tutorials, and instant access to the Fairy Dust Teaching Library - FREE!


  1. about a girl says:

    Just wanted to stop by and say I’m loving your blog and your ideas! I’m going to bookmark some of your posts to use for our Asia box.

  2. Awesome! This is so creative !! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Thank you! I absolutely love the China Unit! It is so rich in what we can do!

  4. This is GREAT. Thank you for posting this. I teach 3-6 Montessori, and have noticed I have very artistic and independent indigo children in my classroom.. This will be perfect to allow them some creativity AND ownership with their counting. Do you have any particular lesson plans that go with it?

  5. My toddler doesn’t understand a counting set yet obviously but he would love playing with the beads! You have so many wonderful ideas!

  6. Neat-o! I used to live in China, and I was thinking it would be fun for my daughters and I to learn to use an abacus. How fun it would be to make one!


  1. […] New Years brings to the classroom.  It is richly embedded with academic learning (for example see Chinese Counting Set ) in a way that addresses multiple learning styles and needs.  I am an Arts-Infused teacher to the […]

  2. Chinese Painted Fans & Dancing

    I am always amazed at the level of joy and engagement the exploration of the Chinese New Years brings

Please Leave a Comment