Math at Home Math Access for Teachers
and Home Child Care Providers

CME Group Community Foundation



Subtraction Bowling

Children will subtract the amount of “pins” knocked down and calculate the
remaining “pins” standing using a base of 10.

Content Area Standard Target
  • Algebra
  • Number and operations
  • Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another
  • Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates
  • Analyze change in various contexts
  • Understand subtraction
  • Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers and drawings, etc.
  • Develop and use strategies for adding and subtracting
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Obtain materials Obtain the Materials
  • Dixie Cups
  • Tennis or bouncy ball
  • Recording Sheet (you can download different recording sheets on the Internet or download the one pictured below here)


Note: Small parts create a choking hazard for children. Make sure that all materials you choose to use for an activity or lesson with children meet safety requirements. Small parts are not appropriate for children who are 5 years of age or younger.

Introduce the activity Introduce the Activity
  1. Ask the children if they have ever been bowling.  Ask them what they know about bowling. 
  2. Explain the game of bowling – 10 pins set up in a triangular fashion.  You roll a ball to see how many pins you can knock down.  You count how many pins are knocked down and how many pins are still standing.
  3. Explain that today the children will go bowling.  They will count how many pins they knock down and how many pins are still standing and then they will record their results.
Engage the children Engage the Children
  1. Have the children set up 10 Dixie Cups against a wall (5 cups, then 4, then 3, then 2, and then 1 – like a bowling alley)
  2. The first player rolls the ball towards the Dixie Cups
  3. The first player counts how many pins were knocked over and records that number on their recording sheet. 
  4. The first player then counts how many pins were not knocked down to find out how many pins are remaining. The children can check their answer by counting the number of pins knocked down and the number of pins still standing and arrive at the number 10.
  5. Now it’s player two’s turn.  Keep taking turns until each player has had 10 turns.

NOTE: It is important to model this before turning it over to the children.  Model how to properly roll the ball so that you don’t have balls interfering with other children’s games.  Model how to record the results.  You might even need to model taking turns and waiting patiently while someone else is taking his or her turn.

Additional Extensions

  • As the children gain proficiency with the number 10 and then number combinations that make up the number 10 (4 + 6) increase the number of pins. 
  • Create bowling leagues.  Create the partnerships according to like abilities.  The children who are grasping the concept easily should be playing against one another with pins added to the game and the children who need additional practice to solidify the concept of 10 should be playing with other children who also need the practice.
Encourage vocabulary Encourage Vocabulary
  • Take away To remove something
  • How many The total or sum (e.g., "How many pins are left standing? How many pins did you knock down?”)
  • Remain – Continues to exist after others do not (e.g., "How many pins remain after your first roll?")
  • Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Make adaptations Make Adaptations

Supporting Children at Different Levels

Toddlers   Pre-K

Toddlers may:

  • Need help with one-to-one correspondence.

  • Need help writing their numbers and placing the answers in the correct operational sequence.

  • Have a difficult time with the number 10 and the combinations of 10
Vertical line

Pre-K Children may:

  • Have working knowledge of base ten and the combination of numbers that make up 10.

Home child care providers may:

  • Help the child count the number of pins knocked down and the number of pins that are remaining.
  • Help the child to write his or her numbers in the correct space on the recording sheet.
  • Reduce the number of Dixie cups in the bowling game and play the game with a smaller amount of Dixie cups. Start at 5 and gradually build up to 10.


Home child care providers may:

  • Give the child additional Dixie cups to add to his or her bowling game.  Have the children work on combinations of 12, 14,… all of the combinations up to 20.


Books Books
  • Subtraction Action by Loreen Leedy (New York: Holiday House, 2002)
  • Hersey Kisses Subtraction Book by Jerry Pallotta (New York: Cartwheel, 2002)
  • Ten Sly Piranhas by William Wise (New York: Puffin, 2004)
Music and movement Music and Movement
Outdoor connections Outdoor Connections
  • Take the bowling game outside.  You can use larger pins and a bigger ball.  Use Dean’s milk bottles as pins and a larger rubber ball.  Playing the game on a harder surface works better than on grass as the pins have a hard time staying up on the grass.  When you play on a concrete surface, you can use chalk to write the recording sheet and keep score on the hard surface. 

  • A trip to the bowling alley is fun for all ages.  For the younger children, use bumpers so that the ball will knock down the pins and you won’t have an excess of gutter balls.  Explain the scoring system, which is similar to the recording sheet and have the children keep their own score. In most cases, the scores are flashed up on a scoreboard above the lane so the children can consistently view their score.  Bowling is a great school trip and helps to solidify basic addition and subtraction skills.

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