Updated: Dec 11, 2020
In some abacus centers claim that young children can start learning abacus from the age of 4. Their syllabus usually starts with finger-counting and it takes about six months for young students to learn it before moving on to basic abacus operations. Of course, starting with finger-counting is by no means wrong. Its main purpose is to assist young students by using fingers to tackle math problems (while using the complements of 5 and 10 formula). Once the students are familiar with the complements, they will have an easier time getting started with abacus. However, there are two side effects to finger-counting:
(1) the representation of different gestures in finger-counting is completely different from what a teacher uses in school, potentially creating confusions for young children and forcing them to make distinctions in different contexts
(2) once a student gets too used to finger-counting, it will actually become an obstacle for subsequent learning. When students do not know how to use an abacus, they will secretly use finger-counting to calculate, negating any effects of learning real abacus.
Some teachers use 9-bead abacus to do preliminary training when they teach young students under 6 years of age. Once students understand the concepts of numbers and quantities, they can start learning 1-4 bead abacus.