Simple Subtraction Game with Pebbles

We do a lot of math activities around here. (In fact last night for bedroom rest time Big M made his own fraction/ word problem booklet… he scored 100%. Smart kid. 😉 ) This subtraction game is so fun I might even call it a favorite. I guess that’s not a stretch since it’s simple and free (two of my favorite ways to learn)!

Simple Subtraction Game with Pebbles

What you need: 10 small objects. They need to fit easily in your hand. We used pebbles but there are a lot of options. Coins, marbles, scraps of paper, beans, beads or noodles would all work.

such a simple way to learn subtraction!

  • Pick any number to start with and place that amount of objects in one hand. We used 4 as an example.
  • Without letting your little one see divide the objects into both hands. Show one hand and ask the magic question. “We started with 4 pebbles. If there are 2 pebbles in this hand, how many are in this hand?”
  • Once they’ve guessed reveal the answer.

Tips: 1. Start with only one object and work your way up to ten. 2. Let your little one test you. 3. Try as many variations on the math problem as possible. (4 shown, none hidden. 3 shown, 1 hidden. 1 shown, 3 hidden. None showing, 4 hidden.)

Have you ever played a subtraction game like this?


  1. absolutely brilliant!
    what a lovely simple way of teaching number bonds -and with an element of fun.
    will DEFINITELY put this into practice – thank you so much for the inspiration!

  2. If you are looking for simple materials for many math games unifix cubes and cuisinaire rods work great. (of course along with your natural materials)

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