28 Subtraction Activities That Are Nothing Less Than Awesome

Your students will love these hands-on ideas.

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.

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1. Start with an anchor chart

Colorful subtraction anchor chart for the classroom

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: Lucky Little Learners

2. Read books about subtraction

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons book cover

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: A Pinch of Kinder

3. Count Pete’s buttons

math worksheet with a yellow shirt and buttons

If your students love the book, try this idea that incorporates real buttons into subtraction practice. So fun!

Learn more: Inspiration Laboratories

4. Climb the monkey tree

a coconut tree made of felt on a desk with a math worksheet next to it

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: Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten

5. Try story problems

a desk with a pencil, pair of scissors, math bin and three math worksheets

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: Miss Kindergarten

6. Introduce different strategies

Colorful worksheet showing different subtraction strategies

Give kids plenty of strategies for understanding subtraction. They can use these when working on subtraction activities and exercises.

Learn more: Proud To Be Primary

7. Count with bears

Math activity for young learners using problem cards, a tracking sheet, and plastic 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: Susan Jones Teaching

8. Smash some Play-Doh

young girl at a table with balls of playdough in a dish and math problems on cards

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: Mama Papa Bubba

9. Whack-a-ball to subtract

a shoe box covered on top with blue construction paper. Five holes cut into the box hold ping pong balls. A student's hands hold a wooden mallet and a card with a subtraction problem

Here’s another subtraction activity that lets kids burn off some energy. Make a 3D ten-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: Planning Playtime

10. Feed a hungry penguin

a colorful construction paper penguin with cut out fish on its belly

This hungry penguin is here to help your students learn how to subtract! Feed him paper fishies and write out the equations.

Learn more: Natalie Lynn Kindergarten

11. Visualize the problem

a math worksheet showing the strategy "visualize it"

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: Susan Jones Teaching

12. Sort flash cards

a student dropping a piece of paper into numbered colorful paper bags

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: The Kindergarten Smorgasboard

13. Bowl and subtract

plastic bowling pins in formation with a subtraction bowling worksheet in front of them

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: A Pinch of Kinder

14. Roll and Race

bright green "roll and race" worksheet with unifix cubes on some of the squares

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: The Printable Princess

15. Have a LEGO subtraction race

two stacks of lego bricks and a single die

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: The Kindergarten Connection

16. Find the key to the lock

orange keys with subtraction problems written on the tag and orange locks with numbers written on them

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: Differentiated Kindergarten

17. Use LEGO bricks for double digits

a subtraction worksheet with colorful legos on top of it

Ready to talk about “borrowing” and double-digit math? Make the concept easier by using LEGO bricks.

Learn more: Real Life at Home

18. Grab a Hula-Hoop

a hula hoop on the ground with colorful bean bags scattered in and around it

Start by tossing bean bags and seeing how many you can get into the hoop. Then, turn the results into subtraction equations.

Learn more: Miss Jacob’s Little Learners

19. Ask “How many am I hiding?”

a black child's hand with a plastic spider next to it

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: PreKinders

20. Stack cups

plastic cups with math problems written on them stacked into pyramids

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: The Kindergarten Smorgasboard

21. Use pool noodles and gophers

popsicle stick gopher puppets sticking out of a green pool noodle and subtraction problem cards

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: Planning Playtime

22. Solve and play bingo

bingo cards

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: Grade School Giggles

23. Play gumball unscramble

gumball unscramble math worksheet

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: Jillian Starr Teaching

24. Toss some beanbags

squares drawn on concrete with numbers inside, red bean bags in two of the squares

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: Education.com

25. Use a zipper slider bag

plastic bag with a number line drawn at the top and a card with a subtraction problem below it

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: Mrs. T’s First Grade Class

26. Slide beads on pipe cleaners

blue pipe cleaner with pink beads attached next to an orange card with a subtraction problem written on it

Make some handy math manipulatives with pipe cleaners and beads. Slide the beads to see subtraction equations in action!

Learn more: Tips and Ideas From Anne Gardner

27. Build a wrecking ball

a stack of wooden blocks being knocked over by a pink plastic yoyo

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: Math Geek Mama

28. Learn the subtraction rhymes

math printouts with subtraction sayings written on them

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: Amy Lemons

Looking for more elementary math ideas? Check out these activities for teaching addition, multiplication, and division.

Plus, 75+ Awesome Websites for Teaching and Learning Math.

Find all the best fun and meaningful subtraction activities for helping elementary math students master this vital skill.