In order to use a Rekenrek students will need to have mastered the five counting principles.
1. The one-one principle – The matching of counting words to the items being counted.
2. The stable order principle – Counting words are always said in the same order.
3. The cardinal principle – The final number in the count represents how many in the set.
4. The abstraction principle – The counting procedure may be applied to any counting situation.
5. The order-irrelevance principle – The order in which items are counted does not affect the count.
Eventually students need to be able to count on from any given number and to be able to count in multiples of numbers such as 2, 5 and 10. Students should be able to stop a count part-way through the count and then recommence the count. For example, three beads might be moved and counted 1, 2, 3, at which point the count is stopped and the students are asked how many beads have been moved. The students are then asked what the next number in the sequence is when counted from that point on, 4, 5, 6 … Later the same process may be repeated with the three beads covered so that the students have to remember or hold the three in their short term memory.