How To Teach Addition And Subtraction To Preschoolers (The Fun Way!)

Teaching addition and subtraction to preschoolers can be quite a task. But what if I told you it can be fun, exciting, and easy at the same time?

Preschoolers can be taught addition and subtraction using countable manipulative objects. Choose activities that include adding and taking away objects to and from a chosen set of objects. Use visually stimulating objects and try to make the concepts as concrete as possible.

Although addition and subtraction can seem too much for preschoolers, exposure to such concepts early in their life can help them massively in the long run. Read on to find out the different activities that can be used to clearly convey the concept of addition and subtraction to preschoolers.

Can 4- and 5-Year-Olds Add and Subtract?

Children as young as 4 years old can count up to at least 20 and add by counting fingers on the hand. 

Although subtraction may seem a little difficult to teach at first, 4 and 5 years olds can be introduced to the concept using simple activities.

Woman teaching addition and subtraction to a preschool child using flashcards

Remember that the activities used to teach addition and subtraction for 4 and 5 year olds should be as concrete as possible. Start with physical objects and flashcards instead of mental math. While the concepts may seem hard for the kids at first, they will gradually learn as the concept is taught in different ways.

What Age Should Addition and Subtraction be Introduced?

Addition and subtraction can be introduced as soon as the children have a good understanding of numbers and counting, according to the different studies on the numerical development of 5-year olds and 6-year olds. While the child should not be bombarded with these concepts, it is perfectly fine to begin with math skills such as addition and subtraction. 

Remember to move at the pace of the child and see if the child’s knowledge of numbers and counting is strong. Once you determine the child’s baseline, you can plan lessons accordingly. 

How Do You Explain Addition to a Preschooler?

The concept of addition can be explained to a preschooler by visualising it as adding or bringing together two or more quantities to make a new total. Start with the basics of addition, such as its sign (+) and that it is one of the four arithmetic operations.

The best way a preschooler can get started with addition is by using physical objects. This will help make the addition as concrete as possible. The child will also be visually stimulated while using physical objects.

Count the objects together and add one or two to the existing pile. Teach your kid mental math by making him or her repeat the math facts after you. 

Keep scrolling if you’re looking for fun and exciting activities to teach the concept of addition to preschoolers.

What Are Some Good Addition Activities for Preschoolers?

Preschool children focused on addition activities using a board and other physical objects for math learning

Some good addition activities for preschoolers are the addition catch game, addition card game, introducing picture books, and using physical objects, flashcards, and abacus.

You can also add a bit of twist to the following activities using your creativity! Keep in mind that the goal is to make learning informative, fun, and exciting for the kids. Read on to delve deep into each activity. 

Addition Catch Game

To play the Addition Catch game, you will need a large ball divided into colored sections. Write simple addition problems without the answer on each section of the ball. The activity is simple. Play catch and throw with your child. Whoever catches the ball has to solve the questions that are written closest to the hands.

It is an excellent activity to teach addition to preschoolers and works best when played in classrooms. 

Addition Card Game

Here is another activity to teach the concept of addition to preschoolers. To play the Addition Card Game, you only need a deck of cards. Each player should take two cards, add the numbers on the two cards, and give the correct answer. He or she gets to keep the cards only if the answer is right. The player with the most number of cards at the end wins the game. 

This is a simple but fun activity. And if there are more than 2 players, the Addition card game will be even more exciting!

How to teach addition and subtraction to preschoolers

Use Physical Objects and Flashcards

Preschoolers can only understand concrete concepts, especially when it comes to math skills. That is why using physical objects and flashcards is one of the best concrete activities out there to teach addition and subtraction.

For this activity, you will need physical objects and flashcards. Use flashcards with numbers 1-10 written on them. Physical objects can be building blocks, sticks, or anything that is easy to hold and can be manipulated. Note that you’ll need a number of the same object. Avoid using objects of different shapes and colors together as this can confuse children. Also, be careful not to choose sharp objects for the activity. 

Here is how you can teach addition using physical objects and flashcards:

Teaching a preschooler addition

Step 1: Present a flashcard with any number between 1 and 10 written on it.

Make the child read out the number written on the flashcard. Now ask the child to count out the objects to match the number on the flashcard. Those objects should be kept together in a pile.

For example, if the flashcard shows number 5, the child has to take 5 objects and keep them together in a pile. 

Step 2: Now have your child take another flashcard and look at the number written on it. Discuss the number of objects to be added to the existing pile of objects in order to match the number on the flashcard.

For example, if the second flashcard showed 8, the child has to add three more objects to the existing pile (that consists of 5 objects) to match the number shown on the flashcard, which is 8.

Step 3: Subtraction can also be taught using this activity. For example, if the number on the second flashcard is 3, the child has to remove two objects from the existing pile of 5, to match the number on the flashcard, which is 3.

Once the child gets a hang of the activity, repeat it using different flashcards. Practice it at least once a day and increase the level of difficulty as the little ones get better with simple numbers. You can also introduce new objects so that they don’t get bored. 

Use Picture Books

Picture books work best for visual learners. To teach addition using picture books, simply choose a book made for your child’s group; most math books will be labeled by grade level.

Sit down with your child and flip through the book together. Show your child if you notice something interesting and appreciate your child if he or she shows an interest in anything in the book. Note that books with bold visuals work best for children as it will be easier to catch their attention. 

If your child likes stories, choose books that incorporate math activities inside short stories. Encourage them to repeat after you or try reading the numbers aloud. Make your child count the number of objects in the book and answer questions about addition. Do not forget to reinforce correct responses! 

Use an Abacus

Abacus is a simple counting tool with rods along which beads are slid. An abacus with brightly colored and large beads will be best for kids as it will be visually stimulating and easy to manipulate.

Abacus for kids

To teach addition using abacus, push all the beads to one side and place the abacus in front of your child. The beads are divided into rows of ten, so start with moving one bead on the top row. Say “1” aloud as you move your bead. Similarly, have your child move a bead on the bottom row and make him say “1” aloud. 

Now add another bead to the first one on the top row and tell your child that 1+1 = 2. Ask him to add one bead to the first on the bottom row and encourage him to say 1+1 = 2. Continue the activity till you move 10 beads.

You can also teach subtraction using the abacus. From a group of beads on one side, move one to the other side and make your child count the number of beads left. For instance, keep 3 beads together on one side and move one bead to the opposite side. Tell your child that 3-1 = 2 and show the two beads that are left on one side.

Is Subtraction Harder To Teach To Preschoolers Than Addition?

Subtraction is harder to teach to preschoolers than addition. This is because subtraction is more abstract than addition as the order is relevant in subtraction. On the other hand, you just need to add numbers together in addition, making it more concrete and easier to understand than subtraction. 

But this does not mean preschoolers should not be taught subtraction. The concept of addition and subtraction can be introduced as soon as the children acquire a good understanding of numbers and counting as the two concepts are crucial for learning the rest of elementary arithmetic.

What Is The Easiest Way To Teach A Child Subtraction?

Teaching addition to preschoolers

The easiest way to teach a child subtraction is to introduce basic concepts that would lay the groundwork for quick learning of subtraction, such as understanding that subtraction means taking away something and that it is the opposite of addition.

Subtraction also works best while using hands-on materials. Physical objects would always help make concepts concrete, making it easier for kids to understand. 

In addition to explaining what subtraction is, you can try out different fun and interesting subtraction activities given below to teach subtraction to preschoolers. 

How Do You Teach Subtraction Activities?

Subtraction activities can be taught by making the child visualise the concept. The best way to do this is to use physical objects and hands-on materials. Here are some interesting activities that can be used to teach subtraction to preschoolers:

Bowling Game

Set up ten bowling pins and give the child a ball to knock them over. After the first try, count the number of bowling that are left standing. Have your child calculate the number of pins that he knocked over with the ball. Reinforce by giving an extra trial for every correct answer.

Soft bowling pins and ball for kids

Subtraction Card Game

Played using a deck of cards, the subtraction card game involves the players taking two cards and subtracting the two numbers on the cards chosen. The player gets to keep the card if the answer is correct. The player with the most number of cards at the end wins the game.

This is a fun and exciting activity and would work best if there are a lot of players!

Use Abacus

Abacus can not only help teach addition, it can also make the concept of subtraction concrete. Begin with the activity by moving a group of beads (between 2 and 10) to one side. Make the child count the number of beads on one side and tell him to move one or two beads from the group of beads to the opposite side. Now have your child count the number of beads left on that side. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to teach addition and subtraction?

The best way to teach addition and subtraction is by making the two concepts as concrete as possible. Preschoolers will not be able to comprehend abstract concepts, so plan lessons that include hands-on materials, physical objects, and things that can visually stimulate the child. 

How do I teach my child to add without using fingers?

While finger counting is just a visual starter, you can teach children to add without using fingers by using physical objects and flashcards. When there is no hands-on material, children tend to use their fingers to get visual cues in order to perform addition correctly. 

How do you explain regrouping in addition? (And can you explain it to preschoolers?)

Regrouping in addition can be explained by introducing worksheets and highlighting the grouped numbers, or by using blocks into two columns of tens and ones. You can explain the concept of regrouping to preschoolers if they are familiar with terms like tens and ones. 

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