Bug Hut - Subtraction Game for Preschoolers

Bug Hut - Subtraction Game for Preschoolers

This subtraction game had Rea and I laughing, playing, and math-ing for 15 minutes. Rea is 4 years old and can do some basic addition and subtraction in her head and my girl has never seen a math worksheet or even a number sentence. I don’t say that to brag, but rather to show you that math is best taught using hands-on concrete methods.

So, let’s talk math for a second…

In the classroom, I primarily taught math. I team taught with another teacher, she taught language arts and I taught math and science. The number of students I taught who did NOT have a strong foundation in numbers was staggering. My fourth graders didn’t understand basic addition and regrouping (a 1st/2nd-grade skill). There are many reasons for this, but a big reason for this is that math is rushed.

Now, I know that it is a little ironic that I am saying this considering that this blog post is about a subtraction game for preschoolers, but let me explain.


This particular activity is adaptable. If Rea weren’t ready for the subtraction part, I would skip it. And for D, my 2-year-old, I would skip the numbers altogether and just work on left to right progressions.


Math is a concrete subject. If you only take one thing from this post, let it be this. We use abstract numerals and symbols to represent real concepts. Ditch them for now and use manipulatives. Teach math in a concrete way. Use a story (word problem) because the context makes it more concrete and fun. When math is taught with manipulatives and stories kids feel like it is play, they engage, and they get it.

So let’s sum up this little Ted Talk.

  1. Ditch numerals and symbols – for now.
  2. Ditch math facts – for now
  3. Ditch the idea that using manipulatives is a crutch – forever

We are building a foundation and we want it strong. THAT TAKES TIME.

Now on to the subtraction game that you came here for.

Focus Skills

Algebraic Thinking

  • Count from 0-10
  • Understand the values of numbers 0-10
  • Separate a total (up to 10) to get smaller sets (8 crackers, eat 2 now you have 6)

Required Materials

*Affiliate Link

*Butcher Paper

*Pretend Bugs



Step #1

On a piece of butcher paper draw a little garden with a bug hut on the left and big watermelon on the right with a trail connecting the two.

  • You can easily adapt this to fit whatever theme you’re working on or interests your child.
Step #2

Place bugs in the bug hut. You need at least 6 because of the die.

Step #3

Roll the die to see how many bugs you move from the bug hut to the watermelon.

Step #4

Move the bugs along the line from left to right just like reading.

Step #5

Count how many bugs are left in the bug hut.

Step #6

Talk with your child; “There were ____ bugs in the hut, ____ went to eat the watermelon, and ___ are left in the bug hut.”

Teacher Tip

There are so many different levels to this activity.

If your kiddo wasn’t quite ready for the idea of separating numbers and that conversation is going over their head that’s OK. They’re still getting so much value from:

  • rolling the die,
  • counting the number on the die,
  • and moving that number of bugs across the line.

This activity is right out of our garden theme unit which includes another subtraction game that is a little different but still as engaging, hands-on, and fun. The unit also includes literacy activities, number and shape activities, art, sensory, and STEM activities to keep you and your kiddos learning through play.

You can see more about the unit here or you can go and buy it here.

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