Are you looking for ways to help your kid build their subtraction fact fluency and solve word problems in a hands-on way? Then you’ve come to the right place! Here’s our selection of the top three engaging subtraction strategies that will help your first-grader understand subtraction. These fun activity ideas are routinely used by top math home tutors and at math tuition centers in and around Singapore. Our helpful subtraction tips and strategies will help you kid thrive in first grade!
How to use these strategies
We suggest giving your kid short daily experiences with these subtraction
strategies and activities. A regular and consistent ten-minute slot every day
is more effective than longer slots that take place intermittently. Try to
build these activities into daily situations such as shopping trips, putting
clothes away, setting the table and so on. Before long, your child will be well
on their way to understanding subtraction in first grade.
#1. Use objects to represent numbers
The first strategy that kids learn is counting, adding and subtracting using
their fingers. This is great as it means they always have something there to
use, and it can help them solve basic subtraction sums within 10. However, the
most helpful strategy you can teach your kid is using small objects to solve
The objects could be anything, such as
blocks, cubes, counting bears, counters or even popsicle sticks. This hands-on
approach is great for learners who prefer a sensory approach to learning as
they can touch and feel manipulatives.
Unlike addition where you are always
putting something more or using more objects at the end of the equation
compared with the beginning, subtraction can be a tougher concept to grasp. We
suggest using a ten frame and rolling balls of PlayDoh or modeling clay. Teach
your kid that the number after the subtraction sign is how many balls they need
to squash away – they’ll love it!
For example, let’s say you are teaching
your kid how to solve the equation ‘9 – 5’. Have them roll nine balls and place
them on a ten frame or a 20 frame. Explain that the number five is how many
balls they need to smash, then let them smash away!
To reinforce this subtraction strategy,
have them count aloud as they smash; “One, two, three, four, five”. Then, ask
them “How many balls are left?” or “How many balls aren’t smashed?” This will
cement the concept that subtraction is all about how many are left at the end.
If you don’t have or don’t want to use
PlayDoh, you can use the same basic approach with blocks or connecting cubes.
Simply ask your child to remove the cubes, instead of smashing the balls!
#2. Flashcards Of all the resources used by math home tutors and
at math tuition centers in Singapore, none are more popular or more effective
than flashcards. Using flashcards is one of the best ways of helping your child
understand subtraction and develop their number sense quickly.
If you haven’t heard this term before, a ‘flashcard’ is any small card used for
teaching. A flashcard can contain anything that the teacher wants to focus on,
including words, numbers, diagrams or illustrations. Most good book stores sell
flashcards but you can also download them and print them, or just hand-write
your own using a pen and paper.
Here are some of the top games you can play
Get two sets of identical subtraction flashcards that focus on the subtraction equations
you want to teach. Mix them up and have your child match them into pairs. For
example, ‘2 + 2 = 4’ would match with ‘2 + 2 = 4’, and so on.
A slightly more difficult variation is the memory game known as pelmanism.
Start with two sets of five identical flash cards and lay them face down in a
five by five grid. Ask your child to turn over two cards. If they match, they
can keep them, if they don’t match they need to turn them back over. This helps
develop their visual memory as they need to remember where specific cards were
in order to form matching pairs.
Math fact sort
Another way to sort math cards is to have your kid sort math facts under the
correct answer. You can do this on a table or buy a special pocket chart that
holds the cards in a row. Let’s say you want to help your child learn all the
ways to make number six. They would have to find all of the subtraction flash
cards that equal six and line them up under the answer.
#3. The ‘Flip-Flop’ Strategy
Many kids find that understanding subtraction takes a little longer than
addition. That’s why our third strategy is so powerful; it builds on the
knowledge and understanding that they already have!
You see, addition equations have an inverse
relationship with subtraction equations. Pointing this out to kids can
dramatically reduce the time it takes them to understand subtraction.
The first step is to practice decomposing
numbers into their parts. Let’s use the example 7. Your kid is likely already
comfortable with telling you the addition equations that make seven, such as ‘1
+ 6’, ‘2 + 5’ and ‘3 + 4’. Build on this knowledge by having them model these
number bonds with blocks or objects.
When they see that five and two make seven,
and can visualize it with blocks, you can ask them, “So if I have seven and I
take away five, how many do I have left?”. If they struggle, have them physically
remove the blocks from in front of them and place them to one side.
You can then decompose the number seven in
other ways. For example, ask “I have seven blocks and take away two, how many
This strategy helps reinforce the inverse relationship
between addition and subtraction equations and helps your kid understand
subtraction far faster.
If your child is struggling to understand subtraction, hopefully these
activities will help! We recommend spending five to ten minutes every day
working on subtraction using these fun approaches until your child masters the
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