23 Subtraction Activities That Are Nothing Less Than Awesome

Your students will love these hands-on ideas.

Subtraction Activities

For some reason, subtraction is often a little trickier for students than addition. That’s why it’s good to have a whole collection of clever subtraction activities in your toolkit. These are some of our favorites for the schoolroom or to practice at home.

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1. Start with an anchor chart.

Subtraction Activities

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 a subtraction book.

Subtraction Activities

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.

If your students loved the book, then try this idea which incorporates real buttons into subtraction practice. So fun!

Learn more: 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: Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten

5. Introduce different strategies.

Subtraction Activities

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

6. Smash some Play-Doh.

Subtraction Activities

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

7. Whack-a-ball to subtract.

Subtraction Activities

Here’s another subtraction activity that lets kids burn off some energy! Make a 3-D 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

8. 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: Natalie Lynn Kindergarten

9. Visualize the problem.

Subtraction Activities

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

10. Sort flash cards.

Subtraction Activities

Label a row of paper bags 1 to 10, then sort flashcards 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

11. 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: A Pinch of Kinder

12. Have a LEGO subtraction race.

Subtraction Activities

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

13. 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: Differentiated Kindergarten

14. Use LEGO bricks for double-digits.

Subtraction Activities

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

Learn more: Real Life at Home

15. Grab a hula hoop.

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

16. 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: PreKinders

17. 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: The Kindergarten Smorgasboard

18. Solve and play Bingo.

Subtraction Activities

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

19. Toss some beanbags.

Subtraction Activities

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

20. Use a zipper slider bag.

Subtraction Activities

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

21. 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: Tips and Ideas from Anne Gardner

22. Build a wrecking ball.

Subtraction Activities

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

23. 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: Amy Lemons

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

Plus, 60+ Awesome Websites for Teaching and Learning Math

23 Subtraction Activities That Are Nothing Less Than Awesome

Posted by Jill Staake

Jill Staake is a writer living in Tampa, Florida. She's spent most of her life teaching in traditional classrooms and beyond, from 8th grade English to butterfly encounters, and believes learning is a life-long process.

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