Early in my publishing career, I was working with an author on an updated book series. In the course of our discussion, he mentioned the Rekenrek, a tool for building early numeracy. This was, at the time, a very new tool in the United States even though its use could be tracked back for many years in the Netherlands. I was intrigued, but not quite sure what we could do with this tool that would help teachers enhance their instructional practice.

Fast forward several years, and the Rekenrek is far more familiar. Many educators are embracing this tool with varying degrees of success. To make this implementation a little easier, Don Balka has developed two activity books for the Rekenrek: Working with the Rekenrek (with Ruth Harbin Miles) and Working with the 100-Bead Rekenrek. These books provide both teacher support and engaging student activities to help us all use the Rekenrek more effectively.

If you’re looking for some ideas to get started with the Rekenrek, here are two new ideas based on these resources.

Make 10/Make 100

It is important that students develop an understanding of the parts of 10 and, later, the parts of 100. With the 20-bead Rekenrek, students can explore the parts of 10. With the students working in pairs, distribute a 1-9 or 0-10 spinner to each pair. Have one student spin and show their number on the Rekenrek. The other student then makes 10 by moving the rest of the beads and naming the pair. For example, “3 + 7 makes 10.”

Beginning in first grade, students can make the parts of 100 using the 100 bead Rekenrek. As a spinner is not practical, the teacher can either give a set of number cards to each pair, or simply call out a two-digit number for the first student to model.

Four-in-a-Row for Operations

The Rekenrek is a powerful tool for exploring the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. This activity can be used for each of these operations. Working in pairs, each student uses a game board, similar to Bingo. One partner picks two numbers from a list, and the other uses the Rekenrek to model the problem. For multiplication and division, students use the 100-bead Rekenrek to create an array or divide using repeated subtraction. (If you’re interested in trying one of these, you can download a sample game board here.)

For any Rekenrek activity, the teacher can be observing and asking questions. One of the most important questions in each activity is, “Can students correctly show the number using the Rekenrek?” Once students are comfortable using the Rekenrek as a tool to model numbers, activities like these will help students build a rich understanding of these early number concepts. Whether you’re a new Rekenrek user or a long-time fan, finding new activities like these will make the Rekenrek a powerful tool in your instructional routine.