Subtraction Lessons: Tips for Learning and Understanding Equations

calculator and penShould subtraction lessons include the use of a calculator? First help your child understand the concept of subtraction, then consider using a calculator. If your child really loves this device, it just might help him memorize the equations!

If your child needs help with subtraction lessons, we are here to help. Read on to find ideas and principles that will make learning equations much easier.

If you are looking for an actual step-by-step procedure for teaching subtraction facts, you can find that here. Put that together with the tips in this article, and you and your child can be well-prepared to learn subtraction!

Below we outline five ideas for greater success with subtraction lessons.


1.  Use Concrete Materials

Berries and grapesUsing your child's favorite food items to teach subtraction equations can make lessons fun and motivating.

Here’s a rule I wouldn’t ignore for any child who is first learning these concepts, regardless of who he is or whether or not he has a disability.

As I’ve emphasized in other articles on this site, concrete materials will help your child know what you’re talking about when you say or write “4”, “6”, “+”, “5 - 3 = 2”, and so on.

Otherwise, to him those numbers and equations will likely be meaningless symbols on a page.

So get yourself an abacus, or some blocks, or beads, or any other physical objects you have around the house that your child can use to count, add or subtract.

You can use anything you have: pencils, pens, blocks, beads, erasers, etc.

You can even use small food items. And hey, while you’re at it, you can even let her eat the snacks as a reward for getting the equation right! 

If you use your child’s favorite foods, that could really keep his attention! 

Crackers, berries, or grapes are an easy choice since you won’t need to cut them up. But if your child loves peaches or apples, you would be wise to go with what he loves.


2. Begin With Simple Equations and Then Move to More Complex Ones

It makes sense that the first subtraction lessons will involve taking away one object and then moving on to those that subtract two objects.

The one exception to this would be the equations in which you are subtracting zero. I’d save the zeros for later to avoid possible confusion. Because it may be harder for her to know what you are doing when you are subtracting zero (or nothing) if she doesn’t understand the concept of subtraction in the first place.

But once she understands the concept of subtraction, you’ll begin helping her memorize the equations. At that point, beginning with the zeros for memorization would make a lot of sense because those would be the easiest to learn.


3. Generalizing Subtraction Lessons

One characteristic that many children with autism have in common is that it can be hard for them to generalize concepts they are learning.

What do I mean by that?

Kids with autism might learn something really well, but they will often have a hard time applying what they have learned to other things.

For example, if you always use an abacus to learn equations, your child might think that subtraction principles only apply to the beads on his abacus. He won’t automatically realize that subtraction works with other things too.

So be sure to change things up. If you use food items during subtraction lessons, switch to beads or some other objects.

And keep changing it up. Because otherwise a child with autism will likely think that subtraction concepts only apply to berries if all he ever uses are berries.

Generalization is extremely vital, not only for subtraction, but also for just about anything you teach to your child. 

For more information on how to help your child generalize concepts, check out this article.


4. Checking the Answer

check mark

When you are first starting subtraction lessons with your child, it may not be necessary to have her check her work to see if her answer is correct. And you don’t want to confuse matters by introducing too many concepts at once.

But later on when she understands subtraction really well, you can introduce a method of checking her answer to see if it is correct.

All she has to do is simply add the second number in the equation to the answer. The sum of those two numbers should equal the first number in the original subtraction equation.

For example, in the equation 5 - 3 = 2, she can check to see if 2 is the correct answer by adding 3 and 2. If they add up to equal the first number in the equation then the answer is correct.

3 + 2 = 5, so 5 - 3 = 2 is correct.


5. Use Math Flash Cards For Memorization

Once she understands these concepts pretty well, you can start using math flash cards during subtraction lessons to help her memorize the equations.

You can use ready-made cards from the store, print them out from a website, or write them out yourself with colorful magic markers.

Check out this article on math flash cards for more information.


Use These Tips For Success in Learning

If you use these ideas, along with the procedure I've outlined in our article on subtraction methods, your child should have a much easier time learning these concepts.

If you have any questions or run into any problems, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'd be happy to help any way I can!

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