Why Online Subtraction Games Are Best for Kids Like Zachary

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Managing your child’s education has always been a juggling act. You might be surprised to learn how many parents are juggling their own education too.

In 2018, there were 3.8 million undergraduate student parents in the U.S., and mothers comprised roughly 2.7 million (or 70 percent) of those students.

Even now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, women are still bearing most home-related and child-rearing work.

For moms like Sinead, that’s been her biggest struggle. “I am homeschooling and I am in the middle of completing a university degree,” she explains,” so it’s very challenging.”

Her two sons are in the early stages of their education. 

At one point, 5-year-old Benjamin was “doing very basic math” and 6-year-old Zachary was “good at some of his times tables but struggled with subtracting.”

Zachary’s struggle might give some parents pause: Isn’t multiplication much harder than subtraction? 

Many of us have memories of mastering addition and subtraction before moving on to more complex arithmetic.

It’s a natural instinct as a parent to rely on your own experiences to inform your approach to teaching. 

But parents like Sinead are realizing that those memories can only get you so far as a teacher. 

And with such limited time available to do thorough research, it can leave many parents feeling frustrated and concerned about their child’s educational progress.

Understanding some of these common math education hurdles is a key first step. And learning how Elephant Learning is designed to tackle these hurdles has helped parents like Sinead get their kids on track.


Why is subtraction more difficult to learn than addition? Educators often rely on the insights of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget to understand these cognitive hurdles. 

“Piaget said that subtraction is more difficult than addition because children initially think and perceive in only positive terms,” according to Constance Kamii and Barbara A. Lewis, the authors of an article on subtraction fluency in the Teaching Children Mathematics journal.

To test this theory, Kamii posed a few subtraction questions to some first-grade students who had never been formally taught subtraction. 

As the article recounts, the first-graders correctly answered the questions “What's 10 take away 5?" and "What's 4 take away 2?"

But when asked "What's 7 take away 4?" they had to count on their fingers.

“These specific questions were selected because 96 percent of the class could instantly give answers to 5 + 5 and 2 + 2, but no one knew the answer to 4 + 3. 

“As many teachers know, ‘doubles’ such as 5 + 5 and 2 + 2 are much easier to learn than combinations such as 4 + 3. These first graders verified Piaget's statement that subtraction is a later, secondary construction.”

Basically, Piaget discovered that children need to understand a part and whole concept, “where a whole is made of some parts, and a whole less some part is equal to the other part.”

Piaget’s own experiment to illustrate this part and whole concept presented children with two sets of candy.  

The first set contained five pieces of candy, but two pieces were sitting together and three pieces were sitting together, respectively. The second set had all five pieces of candy sitting together. 

When children were asked which set had more candy, students lacking the part and whole concept always chose the first set of two separate piles. 

To teach this part and the whole concept, teachers are encouraged to provide students with multiple visual and manipulative experiences so they can see patterns and make connections.

Finding Elephant Learning

Mathematics educators have long known about the efficacy of visual representations in teaching mathematics.

That’s what makes Elephant Learning so effective as a teaching tool. It was designed by mathematics educators and researchers.

Sinead’s sons have their own profile inside the app. They each have access to numerous games that involve mathematical problem-solving.

These aren’t math lessons dressed up in animation. They are games that engage a child’s senses — visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic — in order to solve the puzzle in front of them.

For example, when Zachary plays the tiger game, he might be given 10 animated tigers and asked to remove some.

If he solves the puzzle correctly, the app will move on to another simulation that requires the same subtraction skill. Zachary might be prompted to remove the shading in a design or to slide an animal down a number line.

The app presents multiple contexts to ensure that Zachary has mastered the subtraction concept before moving on.

If he continues to struggle with the concept, the app will give him some easier puzzles to keep him motivated. 

It will return to the concept later, but in the meantime Elephant Learning provides

Sinead with some tips on how she can reinforce the concept with her own words and games.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that visual mathematics is only suited for younger students. Sinead can rely on Elephant Learning to effectively teach her sons math well into high school.

According to Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, “Older students often develop the idea that manipulatives are for babies and can’t possibly be useful in higher levels of math. 

But, “some of the world’s top mathematicians engage almost entirely with visual mathematics. For example, Maryam Mirzakhani, arguably the most important mathematician of our time, works almost entirely visually. 

And, “a groundbreaking study in 2013 found that training students through visual representations improved students’ math performance significantly.”

Related: A Math App for Kids Gives Parents the Teaching Empowerment They Crave

Zachary and Benjamin’s Experience With Elephant Learning

Elephant Learning has helped Zachary overcome his problems with subtraction. In fact, he’s mastered concepts like addition and subtraction to 10 and 20, and decomposing numbers. He’s now skip counting and comparing addition and subtraction operations.

He’s so excited to play the games that he’s averaging 60 minutes of playtime each week.

Benjamin has already mastered addition and subtraction up to 10 and is now decomposing small numbers. After 30 minutes of playtime each week, he’s mastered three years of math concepts.

Zachary and Benjamin have 24/7 access to Elephant Learning, so Sinead can plan their math learning around her own school schedule. 

She can break up their playtime into smaller sessions if she’s concerned about their daily screen time. And, she can rely on Elephant Learning to provide her the effective teaching tools she needs to support her kids.

Student parents know the importance of a strong education. Relying on Elephant Learning to teach your kids math concepts gives you the time you need to focus on your own educational journey.

Related: The Early Years: Teaching Young Children Math Concepts

Benjamin’s Results: 

  • Age: 5
  • Starting Elephant Learning Age: 3
  • Current Elephant Learning Age: 6.1
  • The difference after six months: 3.1

Zachary’s Results: 

  • Age: 6.75
  • Starting Elephant Learning Age: 4.4
  • Current Elephant Learning Age: 8
  • The difference after six months: 3.6

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