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Improve Subtraction Skills With a Fun Pennies Game

An interesting yet easy game to enrich “mental math” subtraction skills is “Penny Hide and Seek.” It uses visual and hands-on practice to help young children quickly and easily remember simple subtraction facts. This aligns with Common Core State Standards, and can be played just about anywhere!

You will need:

  • Five pennies
  • A paper plate

To play:

  • Have your child count the five pennies, and put them in a row.
  • Cover the five pennies with the paper plate.
  • Ask, “How many pennies are under the plate?” Your child will answer “5.”
  • Say, “That’s right.” Then ask him to close his eyes and turn away.
  • Remove two pennies from under the plate, and put them on top. Leave the rest under the plate.
  • Ask him to open his eyes and look at the plate. “How many pennies do you see on top?” He’ll say “2.” Then say, “I moved two on top. We started with five, so how many are still hiding under the plate?”
  • When he says “3,” say the subtraction sentence—5 - 2 = 3—and have him repeat it.


Repeat often with different combinations of 5. For example, put four pennies on top and leave one under the plate for 5 - 4 = 1.

Don’t forget to practice the zero fact also. Have your child hide her eyes and put all five pennies on top, so there are zero pennies under the plate for 5 - 5 = 0. Turn the facts around. Put none on top for 5 - 0 = 5.

Once she has easily mastered all the “5” subtraction facts, start the game with six pennies. Keep increasing pennies, by one, until she can easily do all the combinations to 10, and eventually to 20.

This kind of math practice gets your child thinking about numbers in a concrete and versatile way, and puts the “fun” in math fundamentals!


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