Subtraction Bowling

In this lesson, children will subtract the number of "bowling pins" that are knocked down and calculate the remaining pins left standing, using a base of 10.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another
  • Compute fluently and make reasonable estimates
  • Analyze change in various contexts

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Understanding subtraction
  • Representing addition and subtraction with objects, fingers and drawings, etc.
  • Developing and using strategies for adding and subtracting

Subtraction Bowling

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Dixie cups
  • Tennis ball or bouncy ball
  • Recording sheet (Download the recording sheet pictured below here or look online for other downloadable recording sheets.)

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Ask the children if they have ever been bowling. Ask them what they know about bowling.
  2. Explain the game of bowling: 10 bowling pins set up in a triangular fashion. You roll a ball to see how many pins you can knock down. You count how many pins are knocked down and how many pins are still standing.
  3. Explain that today the children will go bowling. They will count how many bowling pins they knock down and how many pins are still standing and then record their results.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Have the children set up 10 Dixie cups against a wall (five cups, then four, then three, then two and then one, like a bowling alley).
  2. The first player rolls the ball towards the Dixie cups
  3. The first player counts how many pins (cups) were knocked over and records that number on his/her recording sheet.
  4. The first player then counts how many pins were not knocked down to find out how many pins are remaining. The children can check their answers by counting the number of pins knocked down and the number of pins still standing and arrive at the number 10.
  5. Now it’s the second player’s turn. Keep taking turns until each player has had 10 turns.

NOTE: It is important to model this before turning it over to the children. Model how to properly roll the ball so that you don’t have balls interfering with other children’s games. Model how to record the results. You might even need to model taking turns and waiting patiently while someone else is taking his/her turn.

Additional Extensions

  • As the children gain proficiency with the number 10 and then number combinations that make up the number 10 (4+6), increase the number of pins.
  • Create bowling leagues. Create the partnerships according to like abilities. The children who are grasping the concept easily should be playing against one another, with pins added to the game, and the children who need additional practice to solidify the concept of 10 should be playing with other children who also need the practice.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Take away: To remove something
  • How many: The total or sum (e.g.,”How many pins are left standing? How many pins did you knock down?”)
  • Remain: Continues to exist after others do not (e.g.,”How many pins remain after your first roll?”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Need help with one-to-one correspondence
  • Need help writing their numbers and placing their answers in the correct operational sequence
  • Have a difficult time with the number 10 and the combinations of 10
Child care providers may:
  • Help the child count the number of pins knocked down and the number of pins that are remaining
  • Help the child to write his/her numbers in the correct spaces on the recording sheets
  • Reduce the number of Dixie cups in the bowling game and play the game with a smaller number of cups (start at five cups and gradually build up to 10)
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Have working knowledge of base ten and the combination of numbers that make up 10
Child care providers may:
  • Give the children additional Dixie cups to add to their bowling game and have them work on combinations of 12, 14, etc.—all the way up to 20

Suggested Books

  • Subtraction Action by Loreen Leedy (New York: Holiday House, 2002)
  • The Hershey’s Kisses Subtraction Book by Jerry Pallotta (New York: Cartwheel, 2002)
  • Ten Sly Piranhas by William Wise (New York: Puffin, 2004)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • Take the bowling game outside. You can use larger pins and a bigger ball. Use Dean’s milk bottles as pins and a larger rubber ball. Playing the game on a harder surface works better than on grass, as the pins tend to fall over on the grass. When you play on a concrete surface, you can use chalk to write the recording sheet and keep score on the hard surface.
  • A trip to the bowling alley is fun for all ages. For the younger children, use bumpers so that the ball will knock down the pins and you won’t have an excess of gutter balls. Explain the scoring system, which is similar to the recording sheet, and have the children keep their own scores. In most cases, the scores are flashed up on a scoreboard above the lane, so the children can consistently view their scores. Bowling is a great school trip and helps to solidify basic addition and subtraction skills.

Web Resources

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