Subtraction, Your Kids and You
Math is likely one of the most difficult things any parent must contend with when helping their child understand mathematical concepts. There is a simple way to make subtraction easy for kids. Kids are most likely to retain images they see longer than those they must visually create. The first time children hear the word "subtract", their minds immediately grow murky with misunderstanding of what it means. Yet, pre-school age children can be taught subtraction as soon as they are able to create words. Teaching the "how" is much easier for parents than the "why".
What Kids See Is What They Subtract
A child can learn subtraction as young as age three. Use subtraction as a learning curve in each day's activities. For example, if a child is playing with several toys, have them remove one to show them what subtraction means. Once they understand that subtraction is merely deducting a unit from a group, the idea of what subtraction means becomes clearer. Use subtle instruction to get the idea of subtraction across rather than formal teaching. Formality at a very young age is certain to be a huge repellent for educational instruction later. Make subtraction as much fun as possible.
Make a batch of cookies with your child. Have them count the number in each batch. Then, present the child with a handful of cookies they have to share with a sibling or their parent. Another method is to use the number of family members. Practice subtracting each time an older sibling or other parent goes off to school and work while the pre-school remains at home. This also works well in groups where the child has to count the number of group members. Have the child draw pictures of each member on a large sheet of paper. By cutting and pasting the pictures, the child is subtracting from the original drawing.
Using several apples, play the game of subtraction by giving the child the total number of apples, for example 5. Have the child subtract from the total as you retrieve a single apple first and then in multiples. These are all mathematical visualizations that children will remember much more easily than just having them place numbers on a sheet of paper and trying to get them to subtract. When it's apparent that children understand the subtraction concepts, they can graduate to formal subtraction.
Explaining "Borrowing" Numbers
One of the more difficult aspects of subtraction that seems complex to children is having to borrow a number in order to make the subtraction process correct. This too can become a visualization. Show kids that if they borrow an apple to add to another number of apples, they can make the numbers subtract as needed.