Activities for the AL Abacus–Review

 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.

Related: RightStart Math Review: Great start, but a big investment

But, RightStart has its downsides, too.

  1. The start-up cost is very high.
  2. It requires a lot of parent teaching time.
  3. 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.)

AL Abacus and place-value cards

Related: Why the AL Abacus is My Favorite Math Manipulative

Related: How to Use the AL Abacus (with Videos)  

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.

Sample page from Activities for the AL Abacus
Sample subtraction lesson from Activities for the AL Abacus
Sample subtraction worksheet from Worksheets for the AL Abacus
Sample subtraction worksheet from Worksheets for the AL Abacus

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.

Sample page from Activities for the AL Abacus
Sample multiplication lesson from Activities for the AL Abacus
Sample subtraction worksheet from Worksheets for the AL Abacus
Sample subtraction worksheet from Worksheets for the AL Abacus

Other Topics

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:

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! 

22 thoughts on “Activities for the AL Abacus–Review”

  1. Thank you so much for this review. It describes our situation perfectly. I have a older student with gaps. We have been working our way through the lower levels of RightStart. While I am so happy that he is finally understanding place value and becoming proficient with arithmetic, I have been feeling very frustrated with the extended treatment of other topics. As you said, it is very difficult to streamline the curriculum to fill in gaps. I placed an order for Activities for the AL Abacus and the worksheets. I know with RightStart’s excellent customer service I will be able to return it within 60 days. I am just curious if you have a recommendation for teaching geometry skills through fourth grade. I would love to use Math Mammoth, but my son has some vision issues and finds the pages too busy.

  2. Hi Debbie,

    That’s wonderful that RightStart has been helping your son strengthen his arithmetic skills. I hope the Activities for the AL Abacus proves to be just what you need! For geometry, take a look at the Kumon Geometry and Measurement books. They’re fairly light, but they look like they cover the most essential geometry topics for those grades, plus money and time. Their layouts are quite clear and clean, so I’d think they’d work well for a child with vision issues.

    Happy Math!

  3. Thank you, Kate! I think the Kumon workbooks will do the job. I have looked on Amazon before but I apparently did not use the correct search terms. We have used the Evan-Moor Word Problems and Daily Math Practice, which are also nicely laid-out, but I couldn’t find a geometry title. Thank you so much for your help!

  4. Hi!
    I just bought the Activities for the AL abacus and worksheet books. I have two kids and am planning on using this through the summer for a catch up. IS this possible, to use in a few months? My kids are 8 and 9 and currently doing Singapore math 3B, but dont know their addition facts or any other facts really.

    I have your addition facts and subtraction books as well! Just thought that the AL might fill in any gaps they may have….

  5. Hi Hannah,

    If your children have been mostly successful with Singapore up to this point, I bet you can fill in any gaps pretty quickly. I’d focus on getting the facts mastered first, and then move into any mental math or written calculations that they need more practice with. The math facts are the foundation, though, so definitely make those the priority. You’ll be very glad that they have those down when they get into the more complex fraction and decimal topics in 4A.

    Happy math!

  6. Hi Kate,
    I have been researching some remedial options for my end-of-3rd-grader to do this summer. I have been a math tutor for 18 years, and somehow my own child is really struggling with math. We know there are a few things in play regarding his learning, but we have decided to put our current math curriculum aside (Math Mammoth, which I recommend to just about everyone and consider an excellent program) and do something totally different over the summer. For a few weeks now I’ve been torn between Activities/Worksheets for the AL Abacus and either Miquon or Gattegno, both using Cuisenaire rods. It seems like both Cuisenaire and Right Start have some definite strengths and a committed following. (Denise Gaskins, for example, recommends rods, and there are some really neat rod-based websites, books, etc. But you seem to lean more towards the abacus, I think?) For reference, we’ve been perpetually stuck in addition for over a year now. My preferred sequence is fact families being memorized somewhat organically, by using various strategies of finding sums/differences/missing parts, then mental math for long addition, then the traditional algorithms, but at this point we need to get out of this addition rut! What are your thoughts on abacus vs rods for remediation? Or do you have a different recommendation for a case like this? Thank you!

  7. Hi Marie,

    I do prefer the abacus/ten-frame route vs. Cuisenaire rods, especially for kids who struggle. Many kids thrive with Cuisenaire rods, but I feel they don’t offer enough of a “peek under the hood” for kids who are having trouble, since you can’t visually see the parts that make up each Cuisenaire rod. (For example, with the abacus or ten-frame, you can see that 8 is 5+3. But 8 is just a certain color bar when you’re using Cuisenaire rods, so you can’t see as easily that it’s 3 more than 5, or 2 less than 10. You have to have those other rods out to be able to notice the relationships.) Kids who are struggling are typically having trouble with these sorts of number relationships, so that’s why I use the ten-frame so extensively in my math facts books.

    Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions! I hope you’re able to find a great fit for your daughter that helps her move forward. 🙂

    Happy Math!

  8. Kate,

    Thank you for your thorough review. There’s not much information about this set elsewhere; even through RightStart, the previews are pretty sparse. As an engineer who enjoys number sense and mental math, I’ve put an unnecessary amount of time and thought into my three year old and four month old’s future math education. 😉

    Currently buying the full manipulatives kit + curriculum books for levels B and C costs almost $400, compared to $125 if you buy the arithmetic kit + worksheets book + games kit. I certainly don’t begrudge my children the best when it comes to something as important as math appreciation. But as someone who ere’s on the side of “better late, than early”, there’s an opportunity cost of money AND play time in doing the full curriculum. I’m just not convinced of the necessity of all the extras incorporated into the full curriculum, just to be lost track of as the material spirals around? I’d rather balance the core arithmetic content out with the frustration and perseverance that Beast Academy flexes.

    My tentative plan is: start working through your Preschool book over the next couple years, transition to the RightStart arithmetic kit and games around 5 or 6 depending on interest/comprehension level, then introduce Beast Academy sections after each relevant Al Abacus unit. They also sell a fractions “tutoring” kit for $50 for later elementary years.

    My questions:
    1. Does this seem manageable? Based on your experience using Beast Academy with your own son, do you think it will be straightforward to make problem selections? In the vein of Charlotte Mason, I imagine short lessons based on time instead of page counts.

    2. At quick glance the scope and sequence of BA-5 covers a lot of the materials in their AOPS Pre-Algebra; is pre-algebra really necessary or could a student just go more slowly through Algebra?

    3. What do you think of using a “rekenrek” with your preschool math series in place of a tens frame? Seems like that would make for a smooth transition to the Al Abacus.

    4. Have you ever played Mancala? I definitely learned to subitize from playing and trying to mentally strategize quickly. I think RightStart should sell a Mancala game with beads painted blue on one side and yellow on the other, and have the rule that blue side shows for beads 1-5 in a cup, and yellow side shows for beads above that. Who do I talk to at RightStart about licensing this concept 😛

  9. Hi Liz!

    You sound a lot like me when my oldest was a preschooler! 🙂 I’ll take your questions in order.

    1. Yes, definitely manageable. However, I’d go in the opposite direction if using both programs–let Beast be the spine, and then use the abacus as a hands-on supplement. (However, only do this after you’ve worked through the basic addition, subtraction, and place-value units in Activities for the AL Abacus. You definitely want your child to have mastered the basic addition and subtraction facts before starting Beast 2A, and you may find my facts books helpful for this. )

    2. The scope and sequence are similar, but there’s a huge leap that kids have to make between the two books: from learning from a graphic novel to reading an academic textbook, and from working in a workbook to writing out problems in a notebook. I wouldn’t want a kid to have to learn those skills along with tackling AOPS Algebra. Kids who have done Beast 5 may find some of the pre-algebra fairly easy, but I think experience of working through the books is very valuable. Plus, it provides a ton of challenge problems so that kids who already know most of the material still have plenty to keep them busy.

    3. I think you could go either way on a rekenrek. Adding it would be fine, but it’s not necessary. Kids can transition to the abacus very easily.

    4. Probably Dr. Cotter. 🙂

    Happy Math!

  10. Hi Kate
    Thanks for the review. I have used RS Level A and B with one of my older student’s and would really like to use it with my youngest child (first grade). Unfortunately I have memories of scrambling for manipulatives and feeling like the lessons became scattered halfway through Level B. I also felt like it was so difficult to speed up or skip something in the lessons.
    Am I right in understanding that this book provides the foundation of Rightstart with less pieces? Is it more streamlined?
    I am thinking about purchasing this or purchasing RS B second edition as I have read it is a little easier to teach from.

    Thanks, Anne

  11. Hi Anne,

    Yes, that’s exactly what Activities for the AL Abacus is. It was the only RS curriculum for a long time until it was expanded into the full curriculum. I think you’d find it much easier to adjust the pacing than the grade-level curriculum.

    Happy Math!

  12. I have a son just entering 2nd grade tomorrow. At the end of the last school year, I noticed he was really struggling with two things – handwriting and mastering addition math facts. We worked hard on the handwriting with the Handwriting without Tears program over the summer because it was that bad. He did great! Now, I need to address the math issues. I want to supplement or replace his math homework from school with a math program that can help him develop better number sense, fill in the gaps and start getting down addition (and eventually subtraction) math facts. Would the AL Abacus program be a good solution or are there other programs that you would recommend to help him? I feel like his gaps are just going to become massive if I don’t address it now.

  13. Hi Naomi,

    That’s wonderful that you were able to make so much progress with handwriting! HWOT is a great program.

    Activities for the AL Abacus is great, but I think it would be overkill for what you’re looking to address. Honestly, I think my Addition Facts That Stick book is just what you’re looking for. (You can read an overview of its approach here.) It will help him make a lot of progress on both number sense and the addition facts in a easier-to-use (and less expensive) way.

    Happy Math!

  14. Thank you! I already had your addition facts that stick book in my Amazon cart. 😊 We will move forward with that. Are there any math manipulatives that would be helpful or that you use in the book that I should buy while I am ordering? Thank you again for all of your help!

  15. Hi Naomi,

    There’s a list in the front of the book, but basically all you need is a deck of cards, two dice, and some sort of small blocks to use as counters and game pieces.

    Hope you and your son enjoy it, and that it really makes addition stick for him. 🙂 Happy Math!

  16. Hello Kate,

    My 10 year old daughter is just beginning Level D. I think we are a bit “behind” if one is looking to stick to grade level. We fell a bit behind due to a few moves (military) but we are trying to work as quickly as possible, even doubling-up on lessons some days. It IS difficult to move ahead as I do not want to miss any of the foundational lessons. To my point: in the last review pages in Level C regarding 4 digit addition and subtraction, she is starting to confuse addition and subtraction as well as forget to change the numbers in the answer when trading. It seems like I need to do a review on the process of both. Suggestions for review that would not slow us down? Should I play the related games again, over and over? Oh, and she is not a fan of the Abacus for some reason. I make her use it, but she feels she can do the math without it, even though I catch her “counting” on her fingers often.

    Since the RightStart method is not the way I learned math, I am finding it difficult to tell when she’s really got something well enough to move on or if she needs review.

    Thank you!
    Lisa Cimilluca

  17. Hi Lisa,

    If your daughter is still counting on her fingers sometimes, I’d suggest spending 5-10 minutes on the math facts each day as part of your regular lesson time. Playing the games from RS is a great way to practice the facts, but make sure your daughter is thinking about the strategies, not counting. Also encourage her to visualize the abacus (rather than actually move the beads) so she starts to internalize the facts. (This article might help.) If you feel like she needs some more variety, take a look at my Addition and Subtraction Facts That Stick books.

    Once your daughter has better fact mastery, I’d suggest doing just one 4-digit addition or one 4-digit subtraction problem each day as part of your warm-up. Those procedures can take a long time for kids to become automatic with, and a little practice each day is usually the best way to gain fluency.

    Happy Math!

  18. Hi Kate,

    Thank you so much for this site and everything it offers. I am currently homeschooling my 6 and 4 year old. After reading over multiple articles, watching videos and preparing my daughter’s math lessons, I have realized just how poor of a math foundation I possess. Despite having done Pre-Calculus and Discrete Math (with a lot of extra credit and hard work) in high school, I still counted with my fingers until last year. I was able to memorize rules but I was never able to do mental math or think mathematically. I really do not want my children to follow in those footsteps and I have put extensive hours and effort into choosing the right curriculum and educating myself as much as possible. However, my oldest daughter is struggling and reminds me daily how much she “hates math” and “wishes it didn’t exist.”

    I have been using Singapore’s Primary Mathematics 1A with her since last year. We used your Addition Facts that Stick and it definitely helped her move forward. However, it took her over a year to grasp addition and subtraction within 10 and we are currently struggling through addition and subtraction within 20. Her 4 year old sister is currently working through the Primary Mathematics 1A and breezing through it (she “loves math”). In fact, I began separating them when they did practice problems because my youngest was helping my oldest.
    My 6 year old is currently reading at a 4th grade level and is writing well above grade level as well and I believe that her distaste for math is in part due to the fact that she seems to have to work a lot harder at it. She lacks confidence in math. It’s heartbreaking for me as a mom and I’m determined to change that.

    I purchased the 2A and 2B Dimensions from Singapore Math after reading your review (hoping for a little more hand holding) but have recently wondered whether a different curriculum would work better for my 6 year old since we are still in 1A after more than a year. I’m not sure if switching to Right Start for a year would help her or if I should just continue with Singapore and supplement with the Right Start Activity Set and Workbook. I can always use the Dimensions Math curriculum with my youngest who seems to be thriving with Singapore. I also wanted to ask at what age or at what point should a child be able to do math in their head without the use of manipulatives? Your input would be appreciated beyond words.

    • Hi Mama Bear!

      It’s so hard to see your child struggling and unhappy with a subject. I’m sure that mismatch between her math skills and reading skills is hard for her, but it sounds like you’re doing a great job encouraging her and help her understand that it’s okay to work hard at math.

      It sounds like a more structured and visual program would benefit your 6yo. I do think taking a year to go through RSB might make a big difference–and you’ll have a scripted teacher’s guide to help you learn as you teach. The Activity Set and Workbook is good, but it can take a bit of work to figure out how to align it and use it alongside Singapore. The full curriculum guide will give you a lot more guidance and support.

      Also, you may have already seen this, but I also have a free video course available through the Well-Trained Mind Academy if you’d like to go deeper in your math teaching. All the info is available here.

      Happy Math!

  19. I have been looking between Right Start A, Singapore, and your new curriculum coming out for my 4 year old when he finishes your preschool book. At this point, it seems math is a strength for him, more so than language. I want him to have a solid foundation, but was hesitant about buying RS only because I heard it was difficult to streamline (if it turns out he wants to move faster). Would I be able to use this and the RS games set with Singapore math or your new curriculum and reap all the benefits (solid conceptual instruction, fun with the games, and flexible to slow down/speed up)?

  20. Hi Emily,

    I don’t recommend adding this to another curriculum, simply because it’s easy to end up feeling like you’re teaching two programs. (And we all do better when we’re focused!) You’re correct that both Singapore and Math with Confidence would be easier to streamline than RS. However, if your only hesitation on RS is the streamlining, I wouldn’t worry about it. Most families don’t run into issues until Level C or so. Plus, up to that point, it’s pretty easy to just combine lessons if you find that your son is cruising along.

    Happy Math!

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