Hands-on math is a great way to teach subtraction, so why not do it with cars! My little boy loves to do learning boxes but I think his favorite ones are those that I brought his cars into the learning.  He loves parking his cars by colors and counting how many of each color he has parked, as well as learning to add his cars while practicing his counting skills even more.

How to Teach Subtraction with Cars - This hands-on math activity is a perfect one for turning playtime into learning time. | www.joyinthehome.com

If you are interested in using cars as manipulatives in your learning activities, you will need to get my ebook, Teaching With Cars. This activity is done with the printables available in this ebook.

How to Teach Subtraction with Cars


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Build an Equation

I like to set the number cars at the top of my sons working area.  We are only using the 1-10 cars right now, but as his math skills increase, I will add the 11-20 number cars to this learning activity as well.

I let my son build the equation and offer help when needed. It only took a few times of where to place the ‘subtraction' sign and ‘equal sign' for him to know how to build it himself.  For subtraction, you will need to remind you child that they need a smaller number for the second spot.

Once all numbers are in place, read the equation together: “Five minus four equals” and then say ‘We are going to build this to find the answer.

Cars are the Manipulates

As a Charlotte Mason educator, I like to use manipulates to teach math facts.  For this activity, we use my sons play cars as the manipulatives and he loves it!  He is always making car sounds, shift changing sounds and such, when he is ‘driving' the car to build the math problem.

When he has the cars in their right place, he counts them to double check his own work.


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Minus means “To Take Away”

Using terms that he can understand is important. We read the equation again before we do this next step.   I then say, “Okay, you have your five cars and you need to ‘take away' how many?”  He looks at the equation and says ‘four'.  He then moves the four cars over under the four of the equation. Yes, my little guy moved all four cars over at the same time and he was so proud of his ability of his ‘big hands'.


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What is Left?

In subtraction, you need to teach ‘what is left' and using cars or other manipulatives to do this will make it very easy to comprehend for a preschool aged child. Once the child has counted and confirm that right number of cars are under the second number, you tell them ‘we need to see what is ‘left over', so drive your remaining cars under the first number over to the ‘equal' part of the equation.


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What is the Answer

After the child drives the remaining cars over to the equal side of the equation, have them count what is left.  Once they know, have them find the answer on the printable car and put it with the cars.

Celebrate that they child ‘solved' the equation!

Ask the child to say the equation with you – “Eight minus two equals six”.
At almost 4 1/2 my son usually does three equations as a lesson and is done.  I desire to keep them fun and a tool to teach the basic math facts, so staying true to short lessons will accomplish my goal of learning while playing.