Teaching Subtraction in FDK

Hi guys!

Today I'm sharing my subtraction lesson plans & activities from this year.
I hope this can give you some ideas for planning your subtraction unit!

Day 1:

On the first day we introduce the word "subtraction" and define it as "when you take away from a number and get a smaller number".  I also introduce these 2 subtraction sentences:

___ take away ___ is ___


___ - ___ = ___

Then we watched the "5 Little Monkeys" video on BusSongs.com:

and we practiced the ___ take away ___ is ___ subtraction sentence by acting the song out and writing a subtraction sentence as we sang and acted out the song.

I had the kids sit on the edge of the carpet and laid down a mat to act as out bed.  Then I chose 5 kids to wear these number necklaces and stand on the mat.

We sang the song and the kids acted it out by jumping on the "bed".  At "one fell off and bumped his head" the kids hopped off the "bed" and just lightly tapped their head with their hands.  Then they went and sat back in their original carpet spot or chair.  

We wrote a subtraction sentence on the whiteboard each time a monkey "fell off the bed".

The number necklaces helped them remember who was falling off the bed.  5 is first, 4 is second etc.  They loved this activity and begged to do it again the next day!

Day 2:

We reviewed the anchor chart from day 1 and practiced subtraction with 5 Little Monkeys again.

We sang and acted the song out like Day 1 but I also put this file up on the SMARTBoard and we practiced crossing out a monkey on each slide and completing the subtraction sentences as well.

Day 3:

On Day 3 we introduced the learning goal and success criteria.

Learning Goal: We are learning to solve subtraction number sentences and story problems.

Success Criteria: I know I can do this when...

- I can complete one of these sentences to solve a subtraction problem
____ take away ____ is ____
____ - ____ = ____

I also showed them how to solve subtraction sentences with fingers and then we practiced this strategy as we read Pete the Cat & His Four Groovy Buttons.

This is my FAVOURITE book to read during our subtraction unit!

It is great for teaching the subtraction symbols in the context of a fun story!

Day 4:

We started by adding "I know I can do this when I can use subtraction strategies to solve subtraction sentences." to our success criteria.  Then I introduced the subtraction strategies:

and we practiced the strategy "use your fingers" again while watching the video "When You Subtract with a Pirate" on YouTube.

Day 6:

I review the subtraction strategies and tell the kids that today we will be focusing on the strategy "use manipulative".  I use this subtraction mat to demonstrate:

I put a couple stacks of the subtraction flash cards and pick students to choose a subtraction card and read the equation.  I demonstrate how to read the first number and put that many counters in the rectangle.  Then we read the second number and take that many away and put them in the cup.  Then we count how many counters are left in the rectangle, find the answer card and place it on the mat.

Then I leave this out for the kids to try at centres as well.

Day 7:

On Day 7 we start working on subtraction stories and the strategy draw a picture.  

I put this subtraction story on the SMARTBoard:

Then I had the special helper pick a friend from the class and pick how many cookies that person ate. We filled in the blanks together, read the question again and wrote the subtraction sentence.  Then we drew 10 cookies and crossed out the number the they picked to practice the "draw a picture" strategy.

We repeated this several times and then I set it out as a centre for the kids to try on their own.

Day 8: 

We quickly talked about "count back" as a strategy and showed them how to put the first number in your head, put fingers up for the second number and then count back as you put fingers down.  This is a tricky strategy though so I don't focus on it much!

Then I move on to use a number line.  We review how numbers get bigger when you go right on a number line and smaller when you go left on a number line so when we subtract we go left.

Then I get a student to pick a subtraction sentence card and read it to me.

We use this mat to practice using a number line:

I put this mat up on the SMARTBoard and we write the question, use the number line to solve the question and write in the answer.  I also leave these laminated sheets out as a centre choice for the kids to practice with independently.

Here are some other subtraction centres that are out during out subtraction unit!


1. 5 Little Monkey's Spin & Subtract

Students spin the two spinners and create a subtraction sentence.  Then they use the monkeys as manipulative to solve the question and place the answer in the third box.

We used toothpicks and paper clips to make the spinners! The kids just hold the paper clip in the middle of the spinner and flick the paper clip with the other hand.

2. Bowling Subtraction

This one is always a huge hit! In the past I've just used water bottles and a tennis ball but this year I found this plastic bowling pin set at Michaels and bought them since they were on sale! 

We set up a bowling alley with our wooden blocks (arranged in the shape of a U) and 2 kids took turns rolling and recording how may pins they knocked down and how many pins they have left.  

You can grab the recording sheet you see above for free by clicking on the image below!

4. Play Dough Subtraction SMASH!

This was another big hit! The students pick a subtraction sentence card, make play dough balls for the first number and smash (or smush) the second number with their first or thumb.  Then they count how many play dough balls they have left to get the answer.

5. My Animal Subtraction Book

We used these in guided math groups for students who needed some more practice with subtraction.  The kids got to pick how many animals they wanted to take away, cross them out and write a corresponding subtraction sentence.

6. Stamp/Dot & Subtract

Yes, these stamps again! #obsessed.

For both activities they stamped or dotted first and then they crossed out however many they wanted and wrote a subtraction sentence to match their picture.

The "teacher bingo dabbers" only come out once in a while so the kids are always excited when they get to use them!

You can grab these recording sheets for free as well by clicking on the image below:

All of the other printables you see in this blog post can be found in my subtraction pack on TPT "Take It Away! A Kindergarten Subtraction Unit".  If you are interested, you can check it out by clicking on any of the images below!

I hope you were able to gain some new ideas for teaching subtraction! 

What are your favourite lessons and activities for teaching subtraction?


  1. Great post! I love the monkey idea! Will totally have to use that this week!

    1. Yay! I'm so glad there was something you could take away from this post! I hope your kids love doing 5 Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed!

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment!

  2. How have I not been following your blog. I follow you on IG but this post and your blog is fabulous! I can't wait to use some of your resources to help my students become subtraction experts.

    1. Hi Sylvia! Thanks for following me on IG and now here! I feel so honoured when people follow me. And thank you for your kind words about my blog :) I hope your kids enjoy these activities! Let me know how it goes!