Simple subtraction, often called “take-away” by teachers of young children, may be best reinforced through finger plays and songs. Children who get the most from these sorts of activities are most likely in the concrete operational stage of development. That means using fingers or objects to illustrate mathematical operations is an appropriate way to support their understandings.
Five Little Ladybugs
Five little Ladybugs climbing up a door
One Flew away then there were four
Four Little ladybugs sitting on a tree
One flew away then there were three
Three little ladybugs landed on a shoe
One flew away and then there were two
Two little ladybugs looking for some fun
One flew away and then there was one
One little ladybug sitting in the sun
She flew away and then there were none
Using one hand – five fingers – you can illustrate the idea that
5 take away 1 equals 4 and 4 take away 1 equals 3, etc.
There are several versions of this song (5 Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Fence, Way up High in the Apple Tree, 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed) that work well and my guess is that you know most of them.
Try putting a small ladybug sticker on each of your fingers or on each of the fingers of your children. This will help them make the connection that the fingers themselves, represent the ladybugs in the song. I also like to use a felt board when singing songs such as these. Have one child come up at a time to remove the ladybugs (they are taking away) so they can see that take-away means less or fewer. Each time there is one less ladybug until there are none.