Addition & Subtraction

Simple operations in addition (joining sets) and subtraction (separating sets) can be introduced to pre-schoolers with manipulatives and first hand experiences.

Make sets of different objects in your living room, then put them together. You can use books, crayons, blocks, chairs, and other common objects.

Show the child how to add using the number line. Put a large number line on the floor. Let the child hop out additions problems.


Give the child fun objects to make sets and add with in the math center, such as balloons, toy figures, birthday candles, etc.

After the child have made many concrete experiences, introduce them to the addition equation. You can use Walmond the Whale to transpose the matching numbers with the right set of fish and start introducing plus and equal signs. Have the child write and draw on paper the full equation.


Let the child roll dice and add up the numerals on them.


Give the child word problems or number stories to solve. Use familiar names to make it more exciting. For example, “Nick had two cards. His grandmother gave him one for his birthday. How many does he have in all?”

Show the child how to addition with a pocket calculator.

Similarly done for additions, you can introduce the child to the notion of subtraction by using Apple to Zebra’s whale chart. The same way you have explained the plus sign is “to add”, you will explain that the minus sign is used to “take out”.

Start with a random number of yellow fish placed on the pocket chart that the child will have counted and identified. The difference here with addition is you are going to use the felt number to show how many fish you will take out from the initial number of fish placed.

Explicitly explain to the child the whole operation with a sentence such as: “From this group of 5 yellow fish (show the group of fish), I will take out (show the minus sign) three of them (show number 3). How many fish do I have left? (Pointing at the equal sign)”. Let the child place the right number of fish after the equal sign. Then sum up the whole operation: “We had 5 fish and took out 3 of them, so now we have 3 fish.”

Make games where the child can manipulate objects and work subtraction problems.


Take away pepperoni on the pizza.




Take away lollipops from the can.


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