13 Simple Ways to Practice Addition and Subtraction

02/03/2021 | By More

In my day, we just memorized math. I don’t know that I ever really truly understood much of what math was nor was I able to compute higher-level skills until I started teaching math and learned how to be flexible with numbers. Flexibility with numbers is a key foundational skill for young learners and those who don’t have it, struggle from early on. When it is hard to figure out what 7 + 4 =, a child will become easily frustrated, leading to the oh so often felt and heard, “I’m just no good at math.” It isn’t about memorization and speed (puuuhhhleeeease – stop with the timed tests!) with basic addition and subtraction – it is about developing strategies that lead to fluency, automaticity, and understanding.

There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but one thing I am passionate about is making sure instruction is developmentally appropriate. Research tells us that learning through play is most appropriate for early childhood students (and that designation goes through age 8 or 9 depending on where you look) and the kids are way more engaged when they’re playing games. To develop strategic thinking, use lots of concrete representations to start, then move to the more abstract (for example, start with dot dice and move on to numeral dice). So, here are 13 ways to practice simple addition and subtraction that are sure to please.

Way 1. Dice –

There are so many different kinds of dice you can get now and if you can’t find the ones you want, there’s DIY wood block dice!  Place value blocks, ten frames, dots, numerals of any range with any number of sides, big and wooden dice, colorful dice, foam dice… Just search for dice online – but be prepared to get lost in that rabbit hole! Lots of work with making five and ten is required in K/1 and this can easily be done with addition (and frankly, subtraction, too – think fact families) and dice. Tenzi is a great way to have multiple players with a target number in a fast-paced, fun game.

2. Deck of Cards –

Pull out the numbered cards and only use those. You can use them in a number of ways – simply flip two cards and add or subtract, play make five or make ten go fish, addition/subtraction war (flip two cards each, whoever has the most/least wins all four cards, repeat) or any of a number of other card games.

3. Dominoes –

This low prep way to practice addition and subtraction involves simply giving students a bin of dominoes and having them pull one at a time. Then, they either add or subtract using the two sides of the domino. It is important, as with all of these ideas, to encourage strategy use. They should subitize the numbers, use counting on strategy, think about a rekenrek or a ten frame – playing these while simply counting all the dots won’t improve their skills at all.

Way 4. Hopscotch  –

Need to get some wiggles out? Go out to the playground or make an indoor tape hopscotch board and give each square a number 0-10. The directions can vary based on your students’ abilities and be used to find the missing addend or subtrahend (“What goes with 6 to make 10?” and they hop to the 4) or to do more basic addition and subtraction (toss two small pebbles or sticks and add/subtract the two numbers). Ready to up the challenge factor? Have kids make the target number a different way after they give you the first way or make a target number with three addends.

5. Musical Chairs –

This is another movement activity for math where you simply put number models on index cards – one per chair. Then play musical chairs like you always would, but kids have to answer their problems correctly to stay in the game as well!

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Category: Dyscalculia

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