I talked about this a little last month when we worked on our addition stories, but I feel it’s worth mentioning again.
Math is not abstract; math is concrete, however we use abstract symbols to represent concrete scenarios. Many teachers try to teach the abstract symbols before teaching the concrete scenarios which is why there are so many people who say they are bad at math. If math were taught (at least initially) using concrete objects that could be seen, felt and manipulated, math would not seem so abstract to children.
Equations are symbols and numbers that are meaningless to young children. For example, we as adults know the symbol “2” represents two seperate things and that is so ingrained in us that we hardly see it as abstract, but our Lil’s have to try to remember what that symbol represents when they see it. This means when young children see an equation like 1+2, they first have to translate those abstract symbols into concrete concepts in their head and then solve the problem. No wonder so many kids think they’re bad at math.
Luckily, there is a way to teach math with concrete concepts before making them memorize abstract symbols; we do this with story problems.  Story problems give meaning to those abstract equations and are able to be acted out, meaning our Lil’s can actually see it happen!
With that said, this activity will introduce your little to the idea of separating i.e. subtraction.
Lil’ Explorers grab your FREE template HERE.
Lil’ Creators grab your FREE template HERE.

Lil’ Explorers Focus Skills

Algebraic Thinking

  • Separate a total (up to 10) to get smaller sets (8 crackers, eat 2 now you have 6)(0-5)

Lil’ Creators Focus Skills

Algebraic Thinking

  • Separate a total (up to 20) to get smaller sets (10 crackers, eat 2 now you have 8) (0-10)

Required Materials

*Affiliate Link

*Toy Cars/Trains

*Train Separation Stories - Lil' Explorers

*Train Separation Stories - Lil' Creators

*White Paper


Step #1
Draw a race track train track on a piece of white paper.
Step #2
Play with your Lil’ and the cars or trains on the track you made.
Step #3
 After you played a little begin to act out the first story problem.
Step #4

Between each story allow for some free open-ended play on the train or race tracks.

Teacher Tip

At this age, you’re trying to keep some buy in with your Lil’ and establish a love for learning. For that reason, I encourage you to allow for some free play in between story problems so that it doesn’t feel like school activities are interrupting your Lil’s playtime.


Let us know what you think of this activity. Were you impressed with your Lil’s ability to do subtraction?