# What is the best way to teach kindergarteners subtraction?

Asked by Eggie (5620) May 30th, 2014

I have reached the topic of subtraction with my class of kindergartens and I would like some advice on teaching them the concept of subtraction. They currently know that subtraction means to take away, and they can perform basic subtraction problems using blocks, but I would now like to put written problems on the board for them and I would like some tips on how to do that so that I would not confuse them. Can anyone help?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

Forget the blackboard. Use raisons or M & M’s. They are very young for the standard written math conventions, but that is the only way you should be writing the equations.

gailcalled (54456)

Exactly what @gailcalled. Physical, hands on, with the visual numbers as a secondary lesson.

Dutchess_III (36384)

stanleybmanly (16441)

@gailcalled So they should not be doing any written equations at all yet? I have previously taught them addition and they are writing basic sums drawing in counters under their numerals.
They have done that pretty well. Was I wrong for introducing written equations to them?

Eggie (5620)

good for you. Sounds like you don’t need advice. You’re a genuine authority!

stanleybmanly (16441)

Not if they’re having no problem doing it, @Eggie. But in Kindergarten the biggest emphasis should be “fun,” while they are actually learning something in the guise of a game.

Dutchess_III (36384)

Are you a teacher?

hominid (7337)

They do not have any problems from what I see…well now at least. In the beginning of addition, they were making some mistakes such as writing too many counters and writing too little counters under the numbers, but I told them that they are adding easter eggs for the easter bunny (since the class started right after easter break) and I just showed them examples over and over from the board and I can say everyone got the idea. Prior to the equations though, they have gone through using blocks, oranges, seeds and dots on a plastic plate that I drew for them, to get them ready for the last step which was the equations. So far, I have only used handouts and concrete manipulative for subtraction and I was worried that when introducing the equations part on the board, that they would get confused with the addition. Hence thats why I asked the question. Should I continue to proceed to the equations like I did with the addition, or should I just stick to the concrete and let them learn addition in the higher grade levels? Would I be wrong for letting them write sums in the class that they are in now? —Yes I am an elementary school teacher.

Eggie (5620)

@Eggie: “Yes I am an elementary school teacher.”

Isn’t there a whole field devoted to this? There are probably not many of us here with a M.S. in early childhood education. What did your training say about this topic? Also, isn’t there a required curriculum? Your school district also probably has adopted a particular math method (singapore, new math, etc).

hominid (7337)

Of course there is a curriculum, but how you teach within that curriculum is up to the teacher.

Dutchess_III (36384)

I have a bachelor degree in education, but that does not say that I would know everything hard and fast about teaching. There are some things that an experienced teacher would be able to help me with and guide me. Getting a qualification and actually working in the field is two entirely different things. A police officer is trained in martial arts and other combat skills, but on the street in a real life situation, he has to know how and when to use those skills. An experienced officer would be able to guide him on the field to correctly handle that situation. It is the same with all jobs.

Eggie (5620)

^ I don’t mean to sound mean, but what you do is really important. In our town, my son had a first-year kindergarten teacher, but she had spent 3 years full-time in a kindergarten classroom as a student teacher prior to having her own class. I can’t believe you’d be thrown into that situation straight out of college.

Also, as much as fluther can be a great resource on many things, I really don’t think this is the right place for this. There must be a professional network that you can access (experienced kindergarten teachers) that would be able to provide you with some great insight.

Unlike parenting, where you are able to really work one-on-one in a non-classroom environment (play), you’re limited to an artificial environment (the classroom). Knowledge of human development and how to teach to many kids with various abilities is something that is out of scope for almost of all us here, unless someone happens to have been educated in this.

I don’t know anything about you, and I’m sure you’re doing your best. But when it comes to spending 3–6 hours/day with other peoples’ kids, I don’t think there is room for much confusion. You have to know this stuff…now. And if you don’t, you need to reach out to someone who knows…now. Not fluther. This is too important.

hominid (7337)

@hominid I do, and I totally understand what you are saying. I am supposed to be working with a classroom teacher, but unfortunately when I got to the school that I am teaching in there was a lack of teachers and they needed a space for a kindergarten teacher, hence I (gratefully) got the job. I have learn’t about theories and other methods from practicum training in college, but there are things unfortunately that I would not know about. Fluther I think is a great resource because there are some teachers that would know about what I am facing. Quite frankly, I think that the ones who are not qualified in this area, should just not answer. I do not think that me asking this question, limits me in any sort of way as a teacher…am I wrong?

Eggie (5620)

When you say counters do you mean they draw short lines to figure out addition? They can do the same with subtraction. 10–3. They draw ten lines and then cross out three. The remainder is the answer. I recommend teach them to always check their answer. Once they get the answer then they should double check by adding 7+3, and make sure they get 10. I think one reason I did well in math is because I always checked my answers and I still do to this day. Checking the math helps solidify in our minds subtraction relative to addition. I think being able to spin the numbers around is what made me excell in math and especially algebra, because it is the beginnings of understanding both sides of an equation.

Or, maybe it is too much information at once for kindergarten. Kinder seems quite young for subtraction, but I don’t know what kids learn at what age nowadays.

JLeslie (54594)

Yes to @gailcalled , I was going to say use cookies. haha

Coloma (47015)

3 + 1 = 4
000 0 0000

Eggie (5620)

Your methods classes didn’t teach you how to teach these basics? These are the backbone of any good teacher education program. In my experience methods classes typically include lots of practicum hours, lesson plans, and observation time. Maybe you could ask the district to pair you up with an experienced mentor to help you develop lesson plans. It seems odd to come to a board such as this for advice, maybe one of the myriad websites with information and prepared lesson plans might be a better resource for tried and true methods.

FlyingWolf (2815)

I teach math by playing dice games with my kid.

Legos are AWESOME for introducing multiplication. Look how the four one-dot Lego bricks add up to the one four-dot block? 4×1=4! Four two-dot block add up to one eight-dot block. 4×2=8~!

Seek (34714)

I used Legos to teach my kids multiplcation – 2 rows x 2 columns = 4, etc. I had to dig up 100 blocks to get to 10×10.

RocketGuy (9455)

Yes, they taught us “methods,” as suggestions with explanation as to why this works best with Kindergarten, this works best with 1st. They don’t tell you exactly what you’re “supposed” to do. Being imaginative works best at all levels.

Go @Eggie!

Dutchess_III (36384)

@Dutchess_III, I am a teacher, I understand what is taught I methods classes. Honestly, the OP should have left the class with at least a vague notion of how kindergarteners learn subtraction. Based on the question, that does not seem to be the case.

I am also a parent, and the thought of one of my kids’ teachers developing lesson plans based solely on advice received from a Q & A site (even one as high quality as Fluther) is alarming.

FlyingWolf (2815)

I doubt it’s “solely”, but we do have teachers (and homeschooling parents) on this site as well. If someone is looking for a few activity ideas, I don’t see how it’s much different than consulting a book of “100 best Kindergarten Lesson Plans” you checked out of the library.

Seek (34714)

@seek there is a big difference between consulting a website where experienced teachers share what has worked for them and using texts written by experienced teachers and a Q & A site where the responses may or may not be from educators. I would further posit that homeschoolers are not a great resource because they have to cater to the learning style and ability to exactly one student whereas a classroom teacher has to take into account the learning styles and ability levels of a heterogeneous population.

FlyingWolf (2815)

Or a population full of kids, who each have a different learning style and ability. I’d hardly call a room of 20 5 year olds “heterogeneous”. That’s exactly the problem most public schools have: Trying to fit 20 kids into a box made for two or three of them.

Seek (34714)

Are those zeros eggs?

I wouldn’t use zeros for counting. A single vertical line is better in my opinion. Or, stars or hearts if you have to use paper and pen.

JLeslie (54594)

@FlyingWolf If I read her correctly, she was actually brought in as an intern, to work with a senior teacher. Then they ran short of teachers, and her position turned into one of a long term sub.

@Seek Yeah, but what else are we supposed to do?

Dutchess_III (36384)

@Seek so your little group must not be very diverse if you wouldn’t call it a heterogeneous population. If that is the case, then your situation is quite different from many public schools.

@Dutchess_III I kind of picked up on that too (but it was a bit unclear), and I still think she should have some kind of mentor in an experienced teacher and be consulting resources specifically directed toward teachers. Also, if she has completed her degree, it should have included some methods classes and practicums. I wasn’t even able to finish my degree and get certified until I had completed student teaching.

FlyingWolf (2815)

*derp.

Forgive me. trying to Fluther and hold other conversations at the same time. I read it as “homogeneous”

Seek (34714)

Right. Me either @FlyingWolf. I can’t imagine NOT having had the experience! I did my internship in a 3rd grade classroom. Teacher made it look so easy. When she left me alone for the first time I was so confident! Yeah. I lost that class in about 10 seconds flat. Thankfully she was only gone for about 15 minutes. That was one of the most invaluable experiences I had in the whole thing.

Dutchess_III (36384)

Oh and I also came to Fluther with questions on teaching certain subjects. Got a lot of invaluable advice.

Don’t hesitate to keep asking @Eggie. ((( )))

Dutchess_III (36384)

Eggie (5620)

You’re doing great @Eggie. Only a fool would think that you can only get answers from one place. A wise person gets information from as many places as possible. (Need a sub? I can do dat!)

Dutchess_III (36384)

Some of my favorite stories are out of kindergarten. I never got my own classroom, but I subbed “professionally” for 3 years, trying.

I used to pack around masking tape and a marker and I’d use them for name tags. I remember one kid telling me his name was “Bob.” He was astonished that I knew how to write his name!

Another time I told the kids I was magic, and even though I’d never met them before I knew who they were. They didn’t believe me. So I told them I was going to read down the roll. I said, “When I get to your name don’t move! If you start wiggling around and stuff then I’ll know because of that.”
Ok, these are 5 year olds. All they do is wiggle! So when I called out a name, I only had to find the kid who went absolutely still to pin point who it was. :D Yeah. They thought I was freakin’ amazing! I “had” them the rest of the day!

Dutchess_III (36384)

I like @Coloma‘s idea best.

@Seek: “I doubt it’s “solely”, but we do have teachers (and homeschooling parents) on this site as well. If someone is looking for a few activity ideas, I don’t see how it’s much different than consulting a book of “100 best Kindergarten Lesson Plans” you checked out of the library.”

I agree that we may have some great activity ideas here. In fact, as a parent of an 11, 8, and 5 year old, I have spent a ton of time doing informal math activities that seem to have helped. And as you know, I have a problem with school’s one-size-fits-all model, so it may come as a surprise when I say that it terrifies me that a kindergarten teacher has tapped fluther for advice. But it’s precisely the inherent limitations of the artificial learning environment of school that makes me particularly unqualified to chime in. My methods for teaching kids all involve the decidedly unschool way of working learning – organically – into everyday life. But the skills and methods required for teaching a large group of kids of various skills and personalities requires the ability to tap into proven research and consistent methods.

Admittedly, I live in an absurd upper-middle class town where parents talk about the ivy league college plans of their kindergartners. But a teacher can’t experiment and try a particular method one year to see how it goes. The approach they will use for math is required from K to 12. This rigid, top-down education works for me in the context of an educational system I find to be less-than-ideal. That is, the obscene student/teacher ratio, the absurdity of everyone sitting at a desk for 6 hours, etc requires a consistent, research-based professional method that assures the best outcome for the most students.

The fact that the OP was given a class of kindergartners without experience in the classroom for a couple of years is terrifying. I don’t blame the OP for reaching out here. But this just doesn’t seem to be the appropriate place. There has to be professional forums and/or organizations where the OP can speak to other educators. But most importantly, the school s/he works for should have put OP in direct contact with these resources immediately. There is just no room for a kindergarten teacher to learn on the job in the was a software engineer can.

hominid (7337)

@Dutchess_III I’m right there with you! My first time in front of a class of high school students, I lost control in about ten seconds too! It was a very humbling experience. I got control exactly ten seconds before the teacher walked in and from that day forward I was more inclined to believe in miracles!

@Eggie for the sake of clarification, Fluther doesn’t forward your question to experienced teachers for response. Members of the group who think they might have something useful to add respond of their own initiative. You may or may not be getting responses from trained educators.

@hominid I agree with you 100%. In our school district each new teacher is paired with a mentor with whom they meet regularly, has monthly meetings to discuss curriculum, strategies, and methods, and reports a week before the other teachers for extra training. They are also given materials including books and web resources to consult. I happen to be fortunate enough to live in an area where the schools are relatively well funded (and everyone complains about property taxes) though I can see where some districts just can’t afford to do these types of things. At the very least though, the OP’s district could give her a list of useful websites and maybe a reading list of helpful books!

FlyingWolf (2815)

@hominid From what I understand school systems adopt teaching programs thinking they will be great and then later pitch it for something new or reverting back to the old way. On a recent Q someone told me that California basically was doing what is now common core, and they decided it was not doing well, and now it will be across America. They didn’t cite a reference, so I don’t know how true that is. They brought it up, because I am always concerned that teachers and people in the school system don’t approach these sorts of things scientifically. I question if they are taught during their own education how to judge if a study is valid and what even makes a valid scientific study.

Worse, I have a stereotype in my head that most people in teaching, including principals and people in the ivory towers of K-12 education are probably usually not math people. I don’t mean they can’t do math, but I don’t think math was their favorite subject in school, and I don’t think they are self identified math people, but rather preferred things like reading and history. Of course, there are exceptions to that I am sure, and maybe I am just simply wrong. I’ve stated similar on similar Q’s and have never had someone argue that point with me. Maybe here we will hear from some of the teachers on this Q and challenge me.

What teacher’s do have is front line experience, they see how well children are responding to different ways of teaching, and in that way their input is invaluable, but it is a little after the fact if your school or teacher is trying something new. Those kids are the guinea pigs.

My point is, even if you have a teaching method given to a teacher on how they are supposed to go about teaching a subject, there is still a chance it is unproven, won’t work for your specific kid, or that it is being taught that way for the wrong reasons. I do think new teachers should be paired with experienced for guidance.

I also think teachers should have some sort of guidelines and suggested ideas of how to teach a subject. More than one way, to adjust for children who are having trouble grasping a subject.

JLeslie (54594)

@hominid Well, logically, every teacher is inexperienced at one point in their career.

You should have met my son’s Kindergarten teacher. What an airhead. 10 years’ experience and she couldn’t hold a conversation with an adult. With what I know of @Eggie already, I have considerably more confidence in them than I did in the person they stuck my kid with.

Seek (34714)

Times have sure changed. My happy memories of kindergarten are of blankies, thumbs in mouth, naps, juice and cookies, recess, petting zoos, counting and the alphabet. And yet, somewhere along the way, I got most of it.

gailcalled (54456)

I was the skunk in Kindergarten. That’s my happiest memory. When the skunk got chosen I got to change the date on the calendar!

@hominid Teachers are not robots. They can NOT all teach in the same, exact way. Some are much more inventive and creative because their personalities are much more inventive and creative. Some are staid and boring….and that is also a reflection of their personalities.
There HAS to be room for individuality in teaching, or you stifle the teacher’s desire to teach.

My favorite lesson, one I made up, was in making molecules. It was for a 5th grade class. I managed to track down 5 different colors of gum balls. I put them in separate boxes which were labled as specific elements. White gum balls were oxygen, blue were carbon, and so on.
Then I tracked down a list of different compounds that could be created by combining these gumball elements in different ways.
The kids got to choose what compound they wanted to make, and they hot-glued the different color gumballs together to create those compounds. The most popular compound was baking soda…sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3. I ran out of oxygen atoms. :(
It was FANtastic, and the idea came straight out of my own head. I didn’t read it in a book. I was not instructed to do it. It was all me, and I don’t think the kids will ever forget it.

@Seek Yeah, well, you spend your entire life talking to 5 year olds, that tends to reflect outside of the classroom!

Dutchess_III (36384)

(Additionally, learning to tie my shoes and bathroom etiquette, such as being able to get there in time and remembering to wash my hands.)

gailcalled (54456)

I’m with you @gailcalled. I was surprised kids are learning subtraction in kindergarten. I tied my shoes, and played games, and painted, and I really have my doubts about the need for such “early learning.” I can’t imagine it really has much impact on the later years, and possibly it takes away from children being creative and curious.

Also, I really need to add again how much using 0000 zeros bothers me. Zero has a value and the value is nothing. Would you use 2222 to represent the number 4? No, four 2’s is 8 and four zeros is zero. You use a vertical line of a one, because it is mathematically correct. Using M&M’s is correct too, because it is a thing. Also, the verticle line is faster to write. When my sister was very very young her teacher told my mom that my sister gets all the math questions correct, but she too ften doesn’t quite get through all the questions, so she gets marked off for the few at the and that she did not get a chance to answer. She was slow to be able to do math in her head, but she understood how to work it out on paper by counting marks.

JLeslie (54594)

Nothing like pennies on the kitchen table. Do it fast before common core permanently removes the ability to do basic math for your child.

MollyMcGuire (6404)

or