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3 Easy Ways To Reinforce Subtraction Skills

Subtraction is often a difficult concept for young children to grasp. Yet it is very important for math comprehension and problem-solving.

Here are three easy and fun ways to reinforce this all-important math skill:

  • Start by practicing counting backward. For a younger child start at the number 10. For a kindergarten or 1st grade student, start at the number 20. The ability to confidently and fluently count backward from these numbers allows a child to know that the number “right before” is an automatic minus one. For example, if you say 12 he should know that the number right before is 11. So, he instinctively knows that 12-1=11.
  • Use a 12-inch ruler as a number line. Have her use her finger to actually “hop” backward on the number line as you give her subtraction to practice. You say, “What is 9-4?” She puts her finger on the number 9 then makes four hops backwards, landing on number 5. Help her remember that she doesn’t start to count until her finger moves and lands on the first hop. Have her say the complete equation, 9-4=5. Then, have her write it in a small notebook. That way you are incorporating visual, auditory, and tactile senses, which reinforce the concept for all types of learners. As she gets confident with numbers 12 and below, increase the difficulty to 15, then 20 using a tape measure.
  • Play a “What Is Missing?” game. Put out 10 fish crackers, raisins, Cheerios, or any other favorite small snack. Together count out so that your child knows there are 10 objects. Have him turn around and not look while you hide some, out of sight, under a plate or bowl. Then, ask him to look again to see and count how many are left. For example, if he still sees 7, help him figure out that there must be 3 under the plate. Have him check under the plate to see if he’s correct. Then have him, or help him write out the subtraction sentence 10-7=3. Added bonus: After each successful guess he can eat the snack! (Variation: This game can be played with pennies—no food or eating involved.)


Incorporating simple math skills, like subtraction, into daily life using fun activities like these takes the mystery out of math!

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