Learning subtraction takes practice, just like any math skill. So it’s a good idea to have a whole collection of clever subtraction activities in your toolbox. These are some of our favorites for the classroom or to send home with students to practice at home.
1. Start with an anchor chart
Anchor charts give kids something to refer back to as they work on new concepts and skills. We like this subtraction anchor chart for all the details it provides.
Learn more: Mini Math Anchor Charts at Lucky Little Learners
2. Read books about subtraction
Read-alouds are such a fun way to introduce new math concepts to kids. There are lots of great books to work into your subtraction activities, like our perennial favorite Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons.
Learn more: Teaching Subtraction at A Pinch of Kinder
3. Count Pete’s buttons
If your students love the book, try this idea that incorporates real buttons into subtraction practice. So fun!
Learn more: Pete the Cat Button Activities at Inspiration Laboratories
4. Climb the monkey tree
Five Little Monkeys is another beloved book with math concepts worked right into the story. Build your own tree for monkeys to climb, or use a doll bed for jumping!
Learn more: Fun With Subtraction at Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten
5. Try story problems
One of the best ways to make math meaningful for students is by teaching them how to solve story problems. When they see math in real-world scenarios, it helps numbers make sense in their minds.
Learn more: Tips for Teaching Subtraction at Miss Kindergarten
6. Introduce different strategies
Give kids plenty of strategies for understanding subtraction. They can use these when working on subtraction activities and exercises.
Learn more: Addition and Subtraction Activities at Proud To Be Primary
7. Count with bears
Using manipulatives is a great first strategy to use. It is concrete and students can really see what it means to subtract and take away from something.
Learn more: Subtraction Activities for First Grade at Susan Jones Teaching
8. Smash some Play-Doh
For some reason, kids simply love to smash stuff! Roll balls of Play-Doh and let kids smoosh them as they subtract. (Find more ways to use Play-Doh for learning here.)
Learn more: Play Dough Subtraction Smash at Mama Papa Bubba
9. Whack-a-ball to subtract
Here’s another subtraction activity that lets kids burn off some energy. Make a 3D 10-frame by cutting holes in a shoebox. Rest Ping-Pong balls on the holes, then whack them with a toy hammer to subtract.
Learn more: Subtraction Activities at Planning Playtime
10. Feed a hungry penguin
This hungry penguin is here to help your students learn how to subtract! Feed him paper fishies and write out the equations.
Learn more: Penguin Subtraction at Natalie Lynn Kindergarten
11. Visualize the problem
Subtraction activities like story problems are easier when kids can visualize the action. Try drawing pictures or acting out the story to make the concept real.
Learn more: Subtraction Activities at Susan Jones Teaching
12. Sort flash cards
Label a row of paper bags 1 to 10, then sort flash cards into the correct bags. Make it a timed exercise and have two teams race to see who’s the fastest (and most accurate)!
Learn more: Subtraction: In the Bag at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard
13. Bowl and subtract
This is one of the most popular subtraction activities out there. Kids bowl, knock down pins, and subtract them from the total. This is too much fun to be learning, right?
Learn more: Subtraction Bowling at A Pinch of Kinder
14. Roll and Race
Students roll a die and match the number to the column on their game board. Then they solve the first available problem, either coloring in or covering the space with a manipulative. The first player to the top of a column wins.
Learn more: Roll and Race at The Printable Princess
15. Have a LEGO subtraction race
Each person starts with a stack of LEGO bricks. Roll the die and take away the number shown, stating the equation out loud each time. First to zero wins!
Learn more: LEGO Subtraction Game at The Kindergarten Connection
16. Find the key to the lock
Invest in a set of locks that you can use for all kinds of things, including subtraction activities. These 8-packs from Amazon come in a variety of colors and should last for years.
Learn more: Locks and Keys in Kindergarten at Differentiated Kindergarten
17. Use LEGO bricks for double digits
Ready to talk about “borrowing” and double-digit math? Make the concept easier by using LEGO bricks.
Learn more: Double Digit Addition and Subtraction at Real Life at Home
18. Grab a Hula-Hoop
Start by tossing beanbags and seeing how many you can get into the hoop. Then, turn the results into subtraction equations.
Learn more: Bean Bags Addition and Subtraction at Education Above All
19. Ask “How many am I hiding?”
Subtraction activities like this one are a fun way to introduce the idea to little learners. Start by laying a few small objects on a table. Next, cover some with your hand. Then, ask how many are left and how many you’re hiding. Simple but effective.
Learn more: Math Game at PreKinders
20. Stack cups
Kids get such a kick out of stacking cups. Work subtraction practice into the mix by labeling the cups with equations and solutions, then challenge students to stack the cups to show the right answers.
Learn more: Addition and Subtraction Cups at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard
21. Use pool noodles and gophers
Your students will love this fun activity that builds math skills with puppets. Pop these darling gophers on a stick into the pool noodle, then take a few away to solve the problem.
Learn more: Subtraction Game at Planning Playtime
22. Solve and play bingo
First, kids work out the correct answers to the two-digit subtraction problems on this free printable. Then, they cut them out and paste them onto their bingo board. Finally, play a game of bingo together!
Learn more: Bingo at Grade School Giggles
23. Play gumball unscramble
Pull a subtraction card, then use the four digits in the gumball machine to create a number sentence that equals the solution at the bottom of the equation.
Learn more: Gumball Unscramble at Teaching With Jillian Starr
24. Toss some beanbags
Write a grid of randomized numbers on the sidewalk (or tape one off on your classroom floor). A student tosses two bean bags onto numbers, then makes a subtraction equation out of their results.
Learn more: Sidewalk Chalk Subtraction at Education.com
25. Use a zipper slider bag
A zipper bag number line? Genius! This clever idea is a useful tool for lots of subtraction activities. (Check out more number line ideas here.)
Learn more: Ziplock Slider Bag Number Lines at Mrs. T’s First Grade Class
26. Slide beads on pipe cleaners
Make some handy math manipulatives with pipe cleaners and beads. Slide the beads to see subtraction equations in action!
Learn more: Beaded Number Rods at Tips and Ideas From Anne Gardner
27. Build a wrecking ball
One more chance to create a little mayhem! Similar to the bowling activity above, kids stack a number of blocks, then knock them down and see how many remain. Noisy, but fun!
Learn more: Wrecking Ball Subtraction at Math Geek Mama
28. Learn the subtraction rhymes
These rhymes will aid kids working on more advanced subtraction activities, helping them remember when they need to “borrow” from the next place value column—and when they don’t.
Learn more: Subtraction With Regrouping at Amy Lemons
29. Play subtraction “around the world”
Have your class sit in a circle on the floor and invite a student to stand behind one of their classmates. Then provide a subtraction equation for these two students to solve (flash cards work great for this game). The first student to answer wins that round and then travels to the next student in the circle. The object of the game is to make it all the way around.
Learn more: Subtraction Activities at Prodigy
30. Play a Dr. Seuss math game
This interactive game is the perfect way to reinforce basic addition and subtraction facts for numbers 0 to 5 for your young students. Check out the free download!
Learn more: Free Addition and Subtraction Game to Practice Making Numbers 0 to 5
31. Sing a subtraction song about pirates
What sillier way to learn subtraction than with pirates? This short, funny video introduces basic concepts, then walks through a few subtraction problems.
Learn more: Harry Kindergarten Music
32. Teach fact families
Fact families are the foundation for both addition and subtraction skills (and later, multiplication and division as well). Learn more about ways to reinforce fact family concepts at the link below.
Learn more: Power Up Your Students’ Math Fluency With Fact Families
33. Try a round of French Fry Subtraction
Your students will love this “fast food” math activity. All you need to make this fun game is red construction paper for the french fry box and yellow construction paper for the french fries. You can then use flash cards or a worksheet for the subtraction problems.
Learn more: French Fry Subtraction at The Kindergarten Smorgasboard
34. Teach your students to use a rekenrek
According to the author of this blog, the rekenrek is one of the best math manipulatives around. Made up of rows of 10 plastic beads each, a rekenrek is designed to build an understanding of the 5-structure and 10-structure of numbers. Every row has five white beads and five red beads, providing a visual model of how numbers are composed. The rekenrek is a perfect hands-on way for students who struggle with the addition and subtraction of larger numbers.
Learn more: Why the Rekenrek Is My Go-To Math Manipulative
35. Play Plus 1 Minus 1
Number fluency requires knowing your numbers forward and backward. Plus 1 Minus 1 is an easy math game that reinforces the concepts of adding 1 to a number and subtracting 1 from a number. All you need is a rule sheet and a deck of cards!
Learn more: Plus 1 Minus 1 at Creative Family Fun
36. Tally up gains and losses
For this fun game, each player starts with 15 points. Player one flips a card (remove face cards or assign them point values first). If the card is black, they add it to their total. If it’s red, they subtract it. Highest point total when all the cards are gone wins! Get a free printable worksheet to use with this game at the link.
Learn more: My Teaching Spirit at Teachers Pay Teachers
37. Play a game of Subtract It!
To begin, download the free Subtract It mat at the link below. Then, give each student a mat, a stack of subtraction flash cards, and manipulative items of your choice (like the rocks above). In the example above, students would put six rocks in the green box, then move four down to the blue, then transfer the remaining two to the yellow.
Learn more: Subtract It! at Confessions of a Homeschooler
38. Count bugs!
To begin, download the adorable, free bug subtraction cards from the link below and laminate them. To practice, students will take a card, count the total spots on the critter, and write that number in the first box. Next, they will count only the spots that are crossed out and write that number in the second box. Finally, they will count the un-crossed numbers to get the answer!
Learn more: Bug Subtraction Cards at The Kindergarten Connection
39. Count lily pad frogs
Hop to it with this fun subtraction activity! The lily pads are made from green foam sheet and the plastic frogs come from a craft store. Each lily pad has a subtraction problem written on it. Students will place the same number of frogs as the first number in the problem on the lily pad. Then, they’ll take away the second number. Give each student a tracking sheet to write their subtraction problems on.
Learn more: Lily Pad Math at No Time for Flash Cards
40. Use subtraction monster mats
These adorable little monsters make learning subtraction fun! Download the free template below.
Learn more: Monster Subtraction Mats at Fun Learning for Kids