In-depth Activities for the AL Abacus review. This streamlined version of the RightStart Math homeschool curriculum makes a perfect hands-on supplement to other programs. It’s also a straightforward, efficient way to fill in gaps for older children.
I’m a big fan of the RightStart Math homeschool math curriculum. I used the first few levels with my own children. It gave them rock-solid number sense, understanding of place-value, computational fluency, and mental math skills. Even though we went on to use other (less teacher-intensive) math programs, I still appreciate the way RightStart gave my own kids a fabulous foundation with numbers.
But, RightStart has its downsides, too.
- The start-up cost is very high.
- It requires a lot of parent teaching time.
- Its spiral format works well for many kids. But, this format makes it hard to accelerate the program for advanced students. Also, it’s nearly impossible to use with older students who just need to fill in a few gaps.
Fortunately, RightStart offers a streamlined version of the program called Activities for the AL Abacus. This concise teacher’s guide has short, to-the-point lessons that show you how to use the AL Abacus to teach arithmetic. When used with Worksheets for the AL Abacus, you can reap many of the benefits of RightStart without investing in the full curriculum.
Overview of Activities for the AL Abacus
Activities for the AL Abacus was written in the 1980s. For over a decade, families used it along with the companion workbook and Math Card Games set to teach their children elementary arithmetic. Then, in the late ‘90s, the author expanded the book to create the full, grade-level-aligned RightStart program.
Activities for the AL Abacus is 134 pages long, with 11 units that teach everything from basic number recognition through long division. (This covers roughly kindergarten through fourth grade.) The companion workbook, Worksheets for the AL Abacus, provides approximately 300 pages of practice worksheets aligned with the lessons.
As you might guess from the title, the AL Abacus is used in nearly every lesson. To teach this program, you’ll need your own AL Abacus as well as RightStart’s place value cards. (You can buy the cards from RightStart, or you can make them yourself with the template in the appendix.)
What Does Activities for the AL Abacus Cover?
Activities for the AL Abacus teaches whole number arithmetic in-depth. It begins with basic number concepts and progresses through addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It’s not a comprehensive elementary math program, and it doesn’t cover fractions, measurement, geometry, money, or time. Here’s how the book is organized:
Number Sense and Place Value
Units 1-3 (34 pages) lay a strong foundation with number sense and place-value. Even if you use this book with an older child, you’ll want to make sure to teach Unit 3 thoroughly to ensure that your child has a thorough understanding of place value before moving on.
Addition and Subtraction
Units 4-7 (52 pages) provide a careful development of addition and subtraction, from the basic facts through adding and subtracting with regrouping in the thousands. This section of the book really shines. Children work on the addition and subtraction facts, mental math, and the standard algorithms for adding and subtracting. With almost 160 practice pages in the accompanying workbook, children who work through this section of the book will be thoroughly proficient with addition and subtraction.
Multiplication and Division
Units 8-9 (28 pages) teach multiplication and division facts, multiplication up to two-digit times two-digit numbers, and short and long division up to 4-digit numbers divided by 2-digit numbers. The book does an excellent job of developing children’s conceptual understanding of multiplication and division. But, most children will need more practice than is provided to truly master these skills. RightStart also offers a Math Card Game set that can be used to provide more practice with the multiplication and division, but most children will also need some extra written drill (with the multiplication facts, division facts, and multi-digit multiplication and division) to achieve full fluency.
Units 10-11 (20 pages) briefly touch on some other miscellaneous topics, including rounding, factors, numbers in base 4, and square numbers. You’ll find some interesting extensions in this section, but it’s not necessary to teach all these extra topics to your child.
Activities for the AL Abacus May Be Perfect for You If…
Your older student has some conceptual gaps
I highly recommend Activities for the AL Abacus for upper-elementary students who are shaky with place value or haven’t mastered addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. (In fact, I’ve used it myself when tutoring struggling upper-elementary students.) The streamlined lessons are perfect for whizzing through these topics quickly. Plus, the abacus provides a highly-effective visual for learning these concepts. The time spent shoring up these foundational concepts is well worth it.
You’d like a hands-on supplement for a more-traditional math curriculum
If you already have a math program you love, but you’d like to add more hands-on activities, the AL Abacus is a versatile, all-in-one math manipulative. You can use it to demonstrate everything from basic addition to long division. If you’d like to supplement your current program with the abacus, you won’t need the worksheets. But, you’ll want to get the Activities for the AL Abacus book, because it will show you step-by-step how to use the abacus for the topics in your curriculum.
You’re looking for a spine for a relaxed, mom-created homeschool math curriculum
If you’re a creative homeschool parent who loves coming up with your own real-life math activities , Activities for the AL Abacus provides a great spine. Add in geometry, measurement, money, and time, and you’ll have a full curriculum. If you go this route, you may also want to add in the Math Card Games set for basic number skill practice, as well as some paper-and-pencil drill for multi-digit multiplication and division.
You’d like an efficient way to teach your advanced student
If your child learns math very quickly and easily, he or she may get frustrated with the pace of most math books. Activities for the AL Abacus is a great choice if you’d like an efficient way to give your advanced student a solid foundation with basic arithmetic.
You’re curious about RightStart
Want to learn more about how teaching with the abacus works—but aren’t quite ready to invest in the full RightStart program? Activities for the AL Abacus will give you a thorough introduction at a much more affordable price.
Don’t Choose Activities for the AL Abacus If…
You want a comprehensive homeschool math curriculum
Activities for the AL Abacus only includes arithmetic from kindergarten through fourth grade. It’s not a full homeschool math program, unless you’re willing to put in the work to add measurement, money, time, and geometry activities, as well as more practice and drill.
You’re looking for arithmetic drill pages for your child to use independently
The lessons in Activities for the AL Abacus are meant to be hands-on, teacher-directed lessons. After you teach a brief lesson with the abacus, your child can complete the worksheets independently. But, it’s not a book you can just hand off to your child to use on his own.
You’re already using RightStart
If you already use RightStart as your main math program, you don’t need Activities for the AL Abacus. All the lessons are already included in the RightStart teacher’s guides.
Where to Buy Activities for the AL Abacus
Activities for the AL Abacus is available directly from RightStart. To use the book, you’ll need:
- Activities for the AL Abacus book
- AL Abacus
- Place-value Cards (You can either buy these or make your own with the template at the back of the book.)
- Worksheets for the AL Abacus
The best value is to buy the RightStart Arithmetic Kit, which includes the Activities for the AL Abacus book, AL Abacus, and place-value cards. Worksheets for the AL Abacus is not included in this kit, so make sure to add it on.
If your children enjoy learning through games, consider buying the RightStart Math Card Games set as well. It provides over a hundred games for practicing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, as well as money, time, and fractions.
Not all families need Activities for the AL Abacus. But it’s a terrific choice if you’d like to fill in gaps for your older student or add more hands-on teaching to your math curriculum. With a solid foundation in arithmetic, your children will be well-prepared and confident as they tackle more complex concepts like fractions, decimals, and percents in the middle grades.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Activities for the AL Abacus and Worksheets for the AL Abacus. Thanks for supporting this site!