Splendid Subtraction Activities

If your kids are struggling with subtraction facts, try these subtraction activities to give them the practice they need.

Toss Them!

Give each child 10 two-colored counters, and tell them to toss them on the table. If the counters show 6 white and 4 red, show how to make a subtraction sentence: "10-6=4". Ask kids if there is another subtraction sentence they can make with those counters ("10-4=6"). Have kids toss and write several different subtraction facts. If 10 counters feels too easy, give more counters for kids to work with.

Clothespin Drop

Give a child 10 clothespins. Put a small, sturdy bowl on the floor. Tell the child to try to drop the clothespins into the bowl. Subtraction Facts Some will go in and some will fall out. Have kids make a subtraction sentence to say how many they got in the bowl. Example: 10 dropped, minus 6 on the floor, equal 4 in the bowl. When the child has worked out a subtraction sentence, write this down and sum it up in a story problem: "Mayra dropped 10 clothespins. 6 fell on the floor. She got 4 inside the bowl. 10 minus 6 equals 4." After doing this several times, invite kids to say the story and the math problem with you.

Edible Subtraction Stories

Give kids 10 or 20 edible items that can be counted: Cheerios, grapes, m&m's, etc. Make up a subtraction food story and have your child act it out. "Chris had 10 Cheerios. He ate 3 Cheerios. How many were left?" Have your child tell you the answer, then say or write the subtraction problem: "10-3=7". (My favorite subtraction story problems go like this: "Vanessa had 10 chocolate chips. She gave 5 to Miss Kelli. How many were left?") Kids love edible subtraction!

Many of these subtraction activities get the body moving, tackle a math problem in various ways, and also tell a subtraction story. This is a powerful combination for learning subtraction facts!

Linking Cubes Subtraction

Subtraction Activities with Link 
Cubes Let kids make tall "towers" with up to 20 linking cubes. Show kids how to "make the tower fall" by breaking it off somewhere in the middle. Count how many were there altogether. Then count how many fell. Make a subtraction sentence. Help kids tell a story about their tower: "I made a tower with 20 cubes. 9 of them broke off and fell down. 11 cubes were left. 20-9=11."

Subtraction Activities with Hidden Objects

Drop Cloth: Put 10 counters on the floor. Drop a tissue or washcloth on top of them. How many are still showing? Use subtraction to find out how many are still covered up.

Covered Eyes

Under the Cup: Show kids some objects and count how many there are. Tell kids to close their eyes; while their eyes are closed, hide a few of the objects under one of the cups. Tell kids to open their eyes. Count how many are showing and find out how many are under the cup!

How Many in My Hand? Show kids a number of dried beans or other small counters and see how many there are. Tell kids to close their eyes while you hide some of the counters in your hands or behind your back. Guess how many are hidden by subtracting.

There are many variations of these sorts of subtraction activities, and kids love them. They have that "magic trick" feel, and the more you play this up and make it seem like you are trying to trick them, the better the fun!

You might also be interested in Subtraction Facts and Subtraction Games.

For more subtraction practice, we recommend Subtraction Bingo Game, Math Mat Challenge Game, and Math Whiz.


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
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