How to Teach Subtraction to Little Kids: Four Proven Methods

Most adults can subtract numbers in seconds, even though it’s more complicated than addition. Sometimes, you can instantly solve 10 – 9 or 14 – 6 because you have learned subtraction facts by heart in school. Meanwhile, little kids do their best to grasp the basics. How do you teach kids to calculate two-digit numbers in their minds correctly? You have to build the math basis. This time, we will explain how to teach subtraction to young kids and what teaching strategies to avoid, so keep reading.

When Should Children Learn Subtraction?

Basic subtraction is among the first math concepts children begin to study alongside addition. Schools teach subtraction gradually. It usually happens as early as pre-kindergarten. Teachers now introduce preschoolers to gains and losses and math operations that reflect them.

Kids learn to associate numbers with items and realize they can calculate and express losses using math language. Although Common Core math subtraction standards do their best not to overwhelm students with complex subtraction theory all at once, children struggle with this operation anyway.

You can help your child learn subtraction by implementing simple subtraction teaching strategies. Keep reading to learn more about subtraction and seven strategies to teach it to kindergartners and first-graders.

Browse Printable Subtraction Worksheets for Your Kids!

What Are Subtraction Facts?

You may have heard questions like, what is subtraction in math or heard about subtraction facts. But what exactly are subtraction facts? These are subtraction equations involving certain number combinations within tens, like 10 – 5 = 5.

Consider them as common knowledge, such as that Earth orbits the Sun. Here are a few subtraction examples:

  • Subtracting zero from a number doesn’t change its value:
    5 – 0 = 5;
    9 – 0 = 9;
    3 – 0 = 3.
  • Simple subtraction equations like:
    10 – 3 = 7;
    8 – 4 = 4;
    14 – 6 = 8 and so on.

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Why bother with subtraction facts? 

It’s because memorizing them helps you subtract numbers in your head without thinking – you instantly know the answer when you see 10 – 5 or 6 – 3.

Fluency with subtraction facts allows you to calculate two-digit and three-digit numbers in your mind much faster. Meanwhile, kids in elementary school haven’t practiced subtraction to the point when they know these facts by heart.

Teach your kids information relevant to their level

Many parents (and some teachers) fall into a trap while teaching subtraction – they believe that the more theory and tools they provide, the better their kids will learn subtraction. That’s not always the case. If you explain everything about subtraction in one sitting, you will leave your kid lost and confused. To teach something complex, you have to build a solid foundation in the first place.

Math feels like a foreign language to kids. It’s counterintuitive and sometimes drives them crazy (especially subtraction with regrouping). So, provide your student with math knowledge based on their current understanding.

For instance, we all know the column subtraction method. However, some take questionable approaches regarding how to teach subtraction with borrowing, like introducing it in the third grade. Let’s say you need to solve 22 – 9. You write 23 in the top column and 9 in the bottom column. Then, you subtract 9 from 3, resulting in a negative number. But children learn negative numbers in the sixth grade. There is already a contradiction – students must master a concept that requires knowledge they will access only in the future. By doing so, teachers put a cart before the horse. That’s why they tell third-graders they can’t subtract 9 from 3. Instead, they have to “borrow” 1 from 2.

As a result, 2 becomes 1, while 3 becomes 13. As an adult, you know it happens because you regroup 23 to 10 and 13. But children get confused because they have no solid place value knowledge. As kids cross 2 and 3 out and write 1 and 13 on top of them, they don’t get 10 and 13. They get 113, and they have no idea why 113 – 9 = 14.

Should you emphasize how to teach regrouping subtraction to kids? 

Subtraction with regrouping prevents kids from understanding place values because it emphasizes ones. It teaches kids to subtract ones from ones without getting the whole picture.

The question is, why should teachers insist on teaching kids how to subtract big numbers from smaller ones, cross digits out, write new ones, and shuffle between place values? It’s so much unnecessary mental work. Why should we confuse our children and punish them for our flawed subtraction methods, then? We shouldn’t check how to teach subtraction to first-graders the right way below.

Teaching First Grade Subtraction Using Number Lines

Number lines help first-graders master subtraction within 20. Here is how it works:

  • Draw a line and separate it with 20 equal segments. Number them from 1 to 20.
  • Explain that your kid can subtract by counting backward on the number line.

Let’s take 8 – 5 = 3 as an example. Find 8 on the number line. Then, jump five times back: 8 → 7 → 6 → 5 → 4 → 3. Consequently, 8 – 5 = 3.

how to teach substraction

Remember number lines fit preschoolers and first-graders as their math curriculum involves subtraction with numbers up to 20.

Subtracting any numbers beyond 20 with number lines will confuse your child.

Teaching Subtraction that Kills Motivation for Learning

You may stumble upon counterproductive subtraction teaching strategies that seem well-written and straightforward. Check them out below.

Never Overfeed Your Kid with Excessive Information

Many parents (and some teachers) fall into a trap while teaching subtraction – they believe that the more theory and tools they provide, the better their kids will subtract. That’s not always the case.

If you explain everything about subtraction in one sitting, you will leave your kid lost and confused. To teach something complex, you have to build a solid foundation in the first place.

Math feels like a foreign language to kids. It’s counterintuitive and sometimes drives them crazy (especially subtraction with regrouping). So you should provide your student with math knowledge based on their current understanding.

Don’t Teach Traditional Subtraction with Borrowing

Seven Strategies for Teaching Subtraction to Beginners

Let’s explore seven subtraction strategies to explain subtraction to your preschooler and first-grader.

Building Number Sense

Establishing a number sense is an essential first step in teaching your kid’s subtraction. Start by ensuring your kid can recite from 1 to 20 and back to 1 without missing any numbers. This foundational ability, now not most effective, aids in subtraction but buries the idea for all mathematical principles. Your kid should be able to recognize the ideas of “one more” and “one much less” than a given variety. 

Another crucial way of number sense is the ability to “make up” numbers with items like counters or pencils. This allows kids to connect the abstract concept of numbers to tangible objects. Encourage your infant to increase their subitizing skills to understand the number of items at a glance, as though they were seeing the quantity without counting one by one. This ability enhances their capacity to work with numbers quickly and efficiently, which is crucial for a successful subtraction.

Learning Mathematical Vocabulary

Another way of teaching subtraction is introducing your kid to mathematical vocabulary. Mathematics often employs numerous words similar to subtraction, and understanding those words is vital for effective conversation in math. By explaining the subtraction definition for kids, exposing them to math language, and encouraging common practice, you’re now not only getting ready for success in school but also empowering them to recognize and solve subtracting math problems at home.

It’s essential to recognize that a few kids can be hesitant to ask questions in class or search for rationalization from teachers, especially if they may be shy or reserved. Consequently, they may struggle to understand mathematical terms and concepts, inadvertently falling behind in their studies. By proactively helping your kids become acquainted with mathematical vocabulary, you equip them with the confidence to take part actively in classroom room discussions and, in turn, deepen their understanding of mathematical concepts.

Incorporating mathematical terms into regular conversations and exercise sessions is an easy but effective manner to decorate your kid’s mathematical language skills. This approach no longer most effectively bridges the communique hole; however, it additionally reinforces their knowledge of subtraction and different math standards.

Using Real-World Scenarios

Engaging children in actual-world situations and problems can be a notably effective technique for teaching subtraction. By crafting examples or events that involve subtraction, you allow your kid to visualize the process and understand how to subtract numbers in real-life situations. Real-life examples bring mathematical principles to life, making them extra relatable and less complicated to understand.

These scenarios may be as simple as calculating what number of apples are left while a few are eaten or how a lot of cash stays after creating a purchase. By contextualizing subtraction in everyday life, you help your kids connect the dots between mathematical concepts and the world around them. This not only enhances their expertise but also demonstrates the actual-existence applicability of Common Core subtraction.

As your kid encounters various situations and problems, they broaden their thinking capabilities and the ability to use subtraction in various conditions. This prepares them for extra complex mathematical challenges they may encounter as they continue their education. 

Transition to Abstract Numbers

Once your kid is confident with realistic and visual strategies for subtraction, it’s time to transition to running with abstract numbers. This step includes your kid keeping a large number in their mind and counting backward via the large number, using subtraction ‘how to’ methods, and reducing it gradually until they find the answer. This mental calculation reinforces their knowledge of subtraction and sharpens their mathematical competencies.

While this transition may be extra hard, it is a critical step in fostering a deep expertise in subtraction. If your kid now and again loses count when subtracting mentally, they can use their palms as a counting aid. Practice is prime at this stage. Encourage your kid on how to subtract large numbers mentally, regularly lowering their reliance on visual aids or physical items. With regular practice, they’ll improve mental subtraction, a precious skill for their mathematical adventure.

Visualize and Strategize

Visualizing numbers and growing efficient strategies for subtraction is an essential step in helping kids grasp subtraction information with comprehension in place of memorization. This technique shifts the point of interest from merely memorizing subtraction data to knowing the underlying ideas, making math more accessible and exciting to your kids.

When children visualize numbers as organized figures, they can flow far away from the tedious technique of counting personal items individually. For instance, while subtracting 12 from 4, they do not need to check doing away with four counters from a pile of 12. Instead, they could visualize those numbers extra abstractly as organized items.

Teaching your kid to apply techniques that capitalize on their capability to visualize numbers empowers them to tackle a wider variety of subtraction problems with self-assurance. This shift in the direction of knowledge over memorization is a pivotal step in their mathematical journey, supporting them to construct a robust basis for how to learn subtraction and other math basics.

Use Subtraction Games

Studies suggest that repetitive math drills yield the best results – help kids memorize math concepts and build computational fluency. However, the problem is that students can’t stand solving exhausting math drills for a couple of hours three times a week. The good news is that you can give them enough math practice with fun subtraction math games. Entertaining characters, smooth animations, and built-in math drills will make math learning fun and easy.

Consistent and focused practice guarantees that your kid’s understanding of subtraction is not only complete but also that they can apply it fast and as it should be. This step bridges the gap between know-how and practical utility, making subtraction an imperative part of their mathematical toolkit.

Additional Resources

Sometimes, additional resources can offer precious guidance in the teaching method. “Subtraction Facts That Stick” is a Common Core subtraction example of this resource that offers complete lesson plans, engaging games, and sensible worksheets. This all-in-one book streamlines the teaching technique, saving effort and time in planning classes and sports. It’s a convenient choice for dads and moms who must ensure that their kid’s subtraction knowledge certainly sticks and that they have a properly-dependent approach to teaching this essential math concept.

How to Explain Subtraction without Borrowing?

Students can fluently subtract without borrowing if you teach them place values and introduce them to negative numbers. First and second-graders don’t need to know all about negative numbers and their applications.

Tell them that they can get a negative difference.

They can subtract without borrowing by breaking down numbers based on their place values.

This way, your kid regroups place values, too. But they do so in an expanded form that illustrates what happens much better than column subtraction with regrouping:

  1. Split 23 into tens and ones: 10 (one-ten) and 13 (13 ones).
  2. Subtract ones: 13 – 9 = 4.
  3. Combine ones and tens: 10 + 4 = 14.

Brighterly’s Tutors Teach Your Child to Subtract

If your kid struggles with subtraction, negative numbers, or regrouping place values, you can delegate your teaching endeavors to professionals at Brighterly.

We teach efficient subtraction strategies within our math courses for kids. All you need to do is indicate your kid’s grade and math knowledge. Afterward, you can enroll your child in one of our math lesson packages. Consequently, your student will practice their computational skills, learn math concepts, and improve their knowledge of math operations under our kind supervision.

The Bottom Line

Teachers have room for improvement in their strategies on how to teach addition and subtraction to kids. It starts with the understanding that learning subtraction is more complex than addition, but children can do it without effort if you teach it correctly – start low and go slow. If you build a solid foundation, you can proceed to more complex subtraction topics. To do so, you can explain subtraction as taking away, teach number sense, practice subtraction vocabulary, and so on.

Brighterly’s tutors teach subtraction for kindergarten excellently. If your kid struggles with subtraction, negative numbers, or regrouping place values, you can delegate your teaching endeavors to professionals at Brighterly.

All you need to do is indicate your kid’s grade and math knowledge. Afterward, you can enroll your child in one of their math lesson packages. Consequently, their student will practice their computational skills, learn math concepts, and improve their knowledge of math operations under the agency’s supervision.

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