Helping Children Learn Subtraction

Subtraction is the “partner process” to addition. Both functions deal with the way two amounts combine. Addition is the process of putting two amounts together to get the total. Subtraction means looking at the total, taking part of that away and counting the amount that remains. If your child is already comfortable with addition (or completed my addition worksheets a few weeks ago), you can introduce your child to subtraction.

These engaging subtraction worksheets will challenge your child to complete subtraction with numbers up to 20.

Begin by asking your child to count the total amount of pictures in the first box. Once he has correctly counted the total number of pictures, ask him to find the corresponding number in the number sentence below the pictures and trace over it with his finger or the point of his pencil. Next, ask your child to trace the minus sign and say aloud “minus” or “take away” before he reads aloud the next number in the number sentence that tells him how many pictures to cross out. Then let him use his pencil to draw an X over the amount of pictures being subtracted. Finally, ask your child to use his finger (or pencil) to touch each remaining picture as he counts to discover the amount that remains. After completing all of these steps, he can trace over the equal sign and then write the answer in the blank box.

After your child has completed the number sentence, read it aloud to your child, pointing to each number and sign as you speak. Then ask him to point to the numbers and signs as he reads the completed number sentence to you.

Many children who are capable of completing basic addition and subtraction problems may not yet be secure writing numbers correctly. Often young children write numbers “backwards” or in “mirror image” when first learning. They also frequently flip the order of the numerals in two-digit numbers, so 18 looks like 81. If your child names the correct answer but struggles to correctly write the number, I suggest you write the number with dashed lines in the box for him to trace. Or, you can write the number on a separate piece of paper to serve as a model as he writes the number in the box himself.

Learning to correctly write numbers takes exposure and lots of practice. To help your child gain comfort with this skill and master the particularly tricky numbers, consider giving your child some tracing numbers worksheets to reinforce the proper formation of each number.

After your child has completed these worksheets, you can create three-dimensional subtraction equations using small buttons, beans or cereal pieces. For example, pour cereal, buttons or beans into a bowl and give your child a large soup spoon and a smaller spoon. Ask him to take one large spoon of cereal, for example, and pour it in a pile on the table. Then ask him to use the smaller spoon to take another, smaller scoop of cereal and pour that on the table to the right of the first pile. Using small index cards, you can insert a minus sign between the two piles and an equal sign to the right of the smaller pile. With the subtraction equation completed, you can ask your child to count each pile of cereal and complete the math equation by writing the correct number sentence with his answer on a blank sheet of paper.