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DIY Rekenreks

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Rekenrek translates loosely to calculation rack or arithmetic rack, and it was designed by a Dutch mathematician. The rekenrek is a great visual model for developing a strong sense of 5 and 10, and it supports a strategy-based approach for learning calculations.

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.

There are commercial rekenreks available, but maybe you’re looking for a more budget-friendly version. What you’ll find below is a materials list, step-by-step instructions, and a link to a free, 44-page booklet on how to use the rekenrek. Weekend project anyone?

Materials list:

Cut each foam sheet into nine 4″ x 6″ rectangles. I used the lines on my paper cutter and a ruler to make 4 small marks where I was going to poke the pipe cleaners through. They are 1″ in from the sides and 1″ apart.

I thought I would have to make holes with a hole punch, but I quickly realized I could easily poke a hole with the end of the pipe cleaner. Poke the ends of the pipe cleaners through on one side and fold them down.

Twist the ends of the pipe cleaners together.

Thread 5 red beads on each pipe cleaner and then 5 white beads. Poke the other ends of the pipe cleaners through to the backside.

The finished product!

The Math Learning Center, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to improve math education, has several FREE PDF booklets for introducing and using the rekenrek. They are fabulous resources! They also have a free Number Rack app.

You might also want to check out these posts on DIY number bracelets. I’ve also added a resource to my TpT store with rekenrek flashcards and a couple of math workstation games.

         


47 Comments

  1. Amy B

    TOTALLY in love with this! I think I have found my summer project…or another one I mean!
    THANKS!
    Amy

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      This one is REALLY easy, Amy! I made 36 in just a couple of hours.

      Reply
    • neansai

      Couldn’t find a place to comment directly…my friend and I are going to make these for our grandchildren’s teacher this week and give her a copy of your TPT about rekenreks. I just had a discussion with the teacher today about that standard for adding and subtracting within 20.

      Reply
      • Charly

        That is so very nice of you…I’m a teacher & I wish I did have someone to help me with making things like this. These things are so expensive. You rock!!!

        Reply
  2. Kelly

    Thanks for sharing. I saw these last year on Pinterest. I pinned it, but wasn’t sure how to use them with the kids! Good for me, I have most of the materials at my house. Thanks again!

    Kelly
    I’m Not Your Grandpa, I’m Your Teacher

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      You’re welcome, Kelly!

      Reply
  3. Linda Guokas

    This looks great! Observed a 2nd grade teacher use this daily. Best visual I’ve seen to help kids learn. Later in the school year she helped the students transfer their knowledge of using the Rekenrek to 100’s. She wasn’t sure how it would translate, but it did! Great lesson that day.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Rekenreks are the best tool that nobody’s heard about, Linda! Seriously. They are a powerful learning tool.

      Reply
  4. Shelly

    The Math Learning Center also has a fabulous, free Number Rack (Rekenrek) app. There is a web version of this app as well. You can also purchase Student Number Rack kits similar to the ones you have made.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      The MLC is a great resource, Shelly! Their web version of the rekenrek is perfect for the teacher to use when demonstrating the use of the rekenrek. At $10 for 10 rekenreks, the students number rack kits are still a little expensive for me. I spent right at $10 (used a 50% off coupon at Micheals) and made 36…with materials left over!

      Reply
    • Angie Auner

      Thanks for the link to the web version. Heading to Pat Catan’s for beads!

      Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      It’s a fun project, Angie! Enjoy!

      Reply
  5. Carol

    The Rekenreks I made from plastic mesh are still holding up fine, but when I need new ones I will definitely consider this method. Right now I am looking for ideas to make a demonstration Rekenrek for when I don’t want to use the web version on the Smartboard. I know Pinterest is the place to look, but it will suck me in for hours!
    Carol
    Still Teaching After All These Years

    Reply
    • Jill Sapoznick

      I really like the plastic mesh canvas as well. This way for younger students you can start with one row and then move to two rows or more rows if you want.

      Reply
  6. Lucy Ravitch

    Thank you so much! I never knew they could be so easy to make… The PDF from that group is amazing too.
    Kids Math Teacher

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      They are very easy, Lucy!

      Reply
  7. Erika

    I’m making these for sure!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      The kiddos will love them, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly their number sense improves, Erika!

      Reply
  8. Linda

    Thank you so much for sharing these, Donna! I’ve seen these on Pinterest and was never quite sure how to use them. These look so easy to make and the activities booklet is fantastic!

    I may even have my second grader’s make their own!
    Linda
    AroundtheKampfire

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure, Linda.

      Reply
  9. Catherine

    Hi Donna,
    I love your blog and am looking for an answer about Rekenreks. I am going to 2nd grade next year –from first– and was wondering if these would be beneficial for use with 2nd graders. I don’t want my administrator coming in a questioning my use of these as not being rigorous enough when teaching math, ya know? I don’t think any of my colleagues used Rekenreks last year, so it would be novel, but I need to know if it is appropriate for use with 2nd graders. Thanks! Catherine

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      I absolutely think you could use them with your 2nd graders, Catherine, especially if they have not had exposure to activities like this. I used a rekenrek today with a 3rd grader I’m tutoring!

      Reply
  10. Anonymous

    Do your students have any problems with the fun foam bending when
    they slide the beads over. I like your idea very much but am worried
    about durability.

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      No! I was skeptical of the foam as well, but it holds up really well!

      Reply
  11. Beverly Ford

    Donna I really enjoy the great ideas you have on your blog. Last year I used rekenreks at a K-2 training. The teachers really enjoyed all of the Number Sense Concepts that could be built. Since then I have taken a job writing curriculum at AIMS Education Foundation and done some field testing with pony beads and shoe strings. There may be an activity in the future using rekenreks. I loved how kids could decompose numbers in lots of different ways using each string as one of the parts. What is your favorite way to use them?

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      You can’t pin me down to one favorite way, Beverly! Ha ha. Although I really like the partner activity that has two kiddos sharing one rekenrek. Working on a target number, one student pushes beads on the top row and the partner has to push beads on the bottom row to make the target number. So if we are working on 7 and I push 3 beads over on the top row, my partner would have to push 4 beads over on the bottom row.

      Reply
    • Cheryle Verish

      Beverly & Donna (and anyone else who can help), Could you direct me to some videos that showcase using the rekenrek, esp in 1st grade? I’ve seen one fantastic video with a teacher, Melissa Ross, using it for a variety of reasons. I’d also like to see how to use it teaching addition within 10 and addition within 20.

      Reply
  12. S. Simpson

    Great post thanks for the link to the Math Learning Center. I wrote a grant last year so that I could purchase rekenreks and my kids loved them. I really like this way to make individual ones, thanks so much for all of the pictures. . . PINNING!!!!

    ✰ Stacy

    Simpson Superstars

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure, Stacy! Congratulations on your grant! 🙂

      Reply
  13. Anonymous

    You inspire me so much. THANK YOU!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Wow!! I’m honored by your comment. 🙂

      Reply
  14. Cheryl Carbary

    Donna,
    LOVE your blog! Made the rekenreks this summer using the fun foam, pipe cleaners, and beads and it couldn’t have been easier. It took a very short period of time one evening. I can’t wait to use them with my second graders. Also, the download you linked is fabulous too! I added them to new math tool kits I made for my students and am looking forward to a lot of math fun this year! Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks for the feedback on how easy it was to make the rekenreks, Cheryl! They will be a wonderful resource for your kiddos, and I’ll bet they’ll love using them. 🙂

      Reply
  15. Anonymous

    Thanks, I have table top abacus that look just like this. I will try this with the abacus first, and if it doesn’t go work I will make these. I downloaded the 44 page book for a start.

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Thanks so much! Just what I needed, and the PDF is really helpful.

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    GREAT IDEA! I am using it as a kindergarten counting class project.
    Thank you sooooo much!

    Reply
  18. Leigh Oden

    Thanks for this information. Although I no longer am an aide in an elementary building, I do tutor a little gal who is going into second grade. I will be letting her make her own so that she can have it at home and be ready to charge full steam ahead into 2nd grade. I had not heard of this until Friday when we had staff development day. I opted to sit in on the K-2 training while I waited for my class to get started. Anyone in the class room should make this a math center activity. I love anything that is hands on!

    Reply
  19. sandi k

    Thank you for the directions for the DIY Rekenreks. I am a Math Coach in my school district and am looking for cheaper ways to get rekenreks into the hands of MANY teachers and students. Your model is cheaper that pre-made products, seems easy to make and durable. : ) Thanks also for the book on utilizing Rekenreks. And… thanks to the fellow “commenter” for the idea of a demonstration model using PVC pipe and pool noodles. It is so encouraging to read everyone’s positive comments on increasing our students’ number sense. : )

    Reply
  20. Debbie

    I put on 10 rows for multiplication/ arrays. I hope it helps my third graders!

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      That’s a great point, Debbie! There are lots of configurations for number racks!

      Reply
  21. msm

    Thank you so much for this information–I’ve been looking at tools to help my students develop their number sense and the rekenrek is one I plan to use. I’ve also figured out another inexpensive way to make them; I think the beads slide more easily.

    http://mrsmooney.edublogs.org/2014/07/19/diy-rekenreks/

    Thanks again for all your help!
    Michelle

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Hey, Michelle! I loved when you said, “Don’t let the electric drill scare you.”! Ha ha.

      Reply
  22. Janet Aggas

    Thank you for this great resource! Quick question, how thick is the foam sheet you used to make the rekenreks?

    Reply
    • Donna Boucher

      Not thick at all! Just standard foam sheets.

      Reply

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