How to teach subtraction to preschoolers

Have you ever heard that addition and subtraction are too hard for preschoolers?

That may be true if that’s what you call it, but the concept of adding or taking away is a simple concept that young kids can easily understand.

Let's look at it with a real life cookie example. After you give a child 1 cookie have you ever heard them say that’s not enough and instead they want two?

Or if you gave one kid 2 cookies and another kid 1 cookie they know that one kid got one more than the other?

This is all about quantity which are early concepts for addition and subtraction.

That’s why there are so many popular songs about quantity.

5 Little Cookies,

5 Little Valentines,

5 Little Monkeys,

And everyone's favorite at Halloween: 5 little pumpkins.

And in some songs they learn backward counting that teaches them subtraction.

For example in this 5 little ducks song they get lost one at a time and a reduced number of ducks return to their mom.

Thus, the kids learn not just how to count backwards, but when pointing out the physical number of ducks that returns, it reinforces the subtraction.

Another one of my favorite songs is this 5 little frogs song. It has a silly “glub glub” noise in it that kids love to copy and sing to and the silliness of eating “delicious bugs” makes them giggle.

And it’s easy to add a hand movement to keep them engaged while singing because they can pretend their arm is a log while the 5 frogs jump on it.

In the song the 5 frogs disappear one by one, which teaches the subtraction of first 5-1 = 4

then 4-1 = 3

then 3-1 = 2

then 2-1 = 1

then 1-1 = 0!

For added fun it’s great to make a homemade felt board and pieces to let the kids play along on their own by manipulating the frogs. It’s really easy to make the felt board you can see in this video using a small corkboard, and some felt.

For other fun ideas and activities use the search feature in our blog or watch this video.

Don't forget to visit our YouTube channel with lots of playlists and this song playlist is great to use with kids!