How to Teach Children Subtraction

Most children learn addition quite readily; however, many of them easily get lost trying to learn subtraction, especially when you start working with the concept of borrowing. You can help a child learn subtraction using the following tips.

Find available tutors

Tips for Helping Children Learn Subtraction

Subtraction for Young Children

It can help children if you present subtraction in a specific sequence. In fact, this is good for presenting any new math fact. In each step of the sequence, you first demonstrate and explain. Then give your child the opportunity to copy your demonstration and make it her own.

  1. Begin with 3-dimensional objects. Find concrete objects that can be used for counting, such as small blocks, beans, buttons, Cheerios or jacks. Show your child eight blocks, for example, and say you are going to take away three of them. Remove three blocks and ask how many remain.

  2. Next, use 2-dimensional drawings and illustrations. Begin by drawing eight circles on a dry erase board. When you say you are going to take away three of them, cross them out, and ask how many remain.

  3. Lastly, demonstrate with numbers and math symbols. Show your child how to write subtraction sentences (8 - 3 = 5) and problems in the 3-line work format.

Subtraction Facts for Young Children

Once your child learns these concepts and understands subtraction, she needs to learn the facts from 0 - 0 up to 9 - 9. Stories, drawings, songs and games can help here. Cement the facts and speed their recall by using flash cards.

One book that is very helpful in teaching both addition and subtraction math facts is Two Plus Two Is Not Five (Easy Methods to Learn Addition & Subtraction) by Susan R. Greenwald. A good card game for several players is Math War Addition and Subtraction by School Zone Publishing Company. Check your library or teachers' store for other books and games.

Subtraction Using Multiple-Digit Numbers and Decimals

Subtracting numbers with multiple digits is often where students get completely lost. If this is approached slowly - demonstrating step-by-step - most children should have no problem. One approach to subtracting both multiple-digit whole numbers and decimals is regrouping, which is commonly called borrowing.

Subtraction by Regrouping

When you subtract by regrouping, you will be changing the top number. Using 9458 - 6793 to teach regrouping, start by writing the problem in the following manner:

9 thousands + 4 hundreds + 5 tens + 8 ones
- 6 thousands - 7 hundreds - 9 tens - 3 ones

Explain that when the bottom number is larger than the top number, break out one unit of greater value into ten units of the next lower value, and reorganize. Show her that this problem would then be written with the top number as 8 thousands + 13 hundreds + 15 tens + 8 ones; the bottom number will be unchanged. From this point, you can solve the problem. The answer is 2,665.

Did you find this useful? If so, please let others know!

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

  • More Blog Articles
    5 Free and Fun Math Games for Kids

    Looking for a way to get your child engaged with math? There are many free, fun math games online that explore basic concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as more advanced games that offer practice with decimals and fractions. Read on to discover five of our favorite educational - and fun! -...

  • More Blog Articles
    Homework Help for Elementary School Math

    Children often struggle to master concepts such as addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, fractions, and math involving time and money. Read this article to learn how you can help your elementary school aged children minimize their homework hassles.

We Found 7 Tutors You Might Be Interested In

Huntington Learning

  • What Huntington Learning offers:
  • Online and in-center tutoring
  • One on one tutoring
  • Every Huntington tutor is certified and trained extensively on the most effective teaching methods
In-Center and Online


  • What K12 offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Has a strong and effective partnership with public and private schools
  • AdvancED-accredited corporation meeting the highest standards of educational management
Online Only

Kaplan Kids

  • What Kaplan Kids offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Customized learning plans
  • Real-Time Progress Reports track your child's progress
Online Only


  • What Kumon offers:
  • In-center tutoring
  • Individualized programs for your child
  • Helps your child develop the skills and study habits needed to improve their academic performance
In-Center and Online

Sylvan Learning

  • What Sylvan Learning offers:
  • Online and in-center tutoring
  • Sylvan tutors are certified teachers who provide personalized instruction
  • Regular assessment and progress reports
In-Home, In-Center and Online

Tutor Doctor

  • What Tutor Doctor offers:
  • In-Home tutoring
  • One on one attention by the tutor
  • Develops personlized programs by working with your child's existing homework
In-Home Only


  • What TutorVista offers:
  • Online tutoring
  • Student works one-on-one with a professional tutor
  • Using the virtual whiteboard workspace to share problems, solutions and explanations
Online Only

Our Commitment to You

  • Free Help from Teachers

  • Free Learning Materials

  • Helping Disadvantaged Youth