forward with fun logo
samples of 3 subtraction fact fluency challenges, level 1 subtraction within 10, level 2 subtraction within 20, level 3 subtraction within 30

Children are building subtraction fact fluency in kindergarten and first grade. This means they need to know and practice their subtracts "facts" quickly. How can we motivate children to practice their subtraction facts? I can tell you, it's definitely not with a subtraction facts worksheet. Just the thought makes me cringe!

Success comes through playing games like these Subtract and Stack Challenges. I've made 5 different sets of challenges that cover subtractions facts in three ranges:

*As an amazon affiliate I may receive a teensy commission if you buy something from one of the links in this post, at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

What is the definition of subtraction fact fluency?

To get to the nitty gritty, subtraction facts to 10 are any equation where something is subtracted from a number 10 or lower.

Subtraction facts to 20 are anytime a number is subtracted from 20 and the difference is a 1 digit number.

So technically, 20-5= 15 is not a subtraction fact, but 20-15=5 is a subtraction fact!

What does subtraction fact fluency mean?

Fluency is the ability to perform an action quickly, almost to the point of automaticity. Subtraction fact fluency is another way to say the ability to do subtraction problems quickly.

The word fluency also shows up in the common core math standards such as in this first grade standard you'll see printed on the stacking challenges:

"1.OA.6 Add and subtract within 20 demonstrating fluency for subtraction within 10."

As children do more and more fun subtraction challenges, they build their fact fluency!

Subtraction Fact Fluency Cup Stacking Challenges to print and play!

We all love a good print and play activity, and these subtraction stacking cups are the cream of the crop.

  1. Print the subtraction fluency stacking challenges (and ANSWER KEYS) at the end of this post.
  2. Laminate, only if you want.
  3. Grab 40 plastic/paper cups and write the numbers corresponding with each set. We love this set of 50 paper cups because they're sturdy and easy to write on. I've used these for years in the classroom, and they're still in fab shape.

If you've already purchased my Addition Stacking cups activities, then you can use those EXACT same cups for both challenges. Want them? When you check out there is an option to bundle the addition and subtraction fact fluency challenges (40 total) for a discount. It's too good!

Then you'll have 10 sets of ready-to-go addition and subtraction activities for kindergarten and first grade, that you have prepped in a total of 5 minutes maximum. Did I mention they include answer keys so kids can self check?

child self checking subtraction fact fluency using answer key
Self checking using the answer keys included

Download your Subtraction Cup Challenges Now!

The Addition Cup Stack builds fact fluency to 6, 10, and 20 through hands-on fun that no child can resist. Just print the 20 differentiated addition challenges for students of all abilities and grab your cups.

addition stacking cups numbers 3-10 stacked in three levels

*As an amazon affiliate I may receive a teensy commission if you buy something from one of the links in this post, at no additional cost to you. Thank you.

How to play Addition Cups Stack

It's all in the name. Add the numbers on the sheet, and then stack the cup with the matching number.

Kids will build many cup towers while mastering addition, in a ridiculously fun activity that they'll beg to play. Believe me, I had to pry my children off these cups in order to take the pictures in this post.

The 5 differentiated sets of stacking challenges are made to meet the needs of learners at varying levels. Choose from adding to 6, to 10, or to 20 for a super challenge.

laminated 5 sets of addition cups with all the colors of cups behind them

As a very loose guideline, this is how I use the cups:

Print out the 5 sets of challenges. Each will come with an answer key, so that kids can self check as they build, making this activity perfect for an independent math center.

To make the activity as kid run as possible, I laminated each set with its Answer Key on the back. So children will be able to self-check when they have completed a challenge.

Prepare the Addition Cups:

You know how sometimes you buy an activity and you just never use it because it's too complicated to do? This is the COMPLETE opposite. Easiest. Prep. Ever.

  1. Print the 5 sets of challenges. Optional: laminate them.
  2. Buy cups you can write on: Paper or plastic. To make all sets you'll need 36 cups.
  3. Write the numbers listed on the bottom of each paper on that set of cups.

These cups will be used for sets 1 and 2. Both sets work on sums to 6. (So for one child, you could use the same cups for sets 1 and 2.)

samples of 2 different challenges using the adding cups

These cups will be used for sets 3 and 4. Kids will make sums to 10 here. (Again, if you'd like to reduce waste, you can just use one set of cups for these.)

sums to 10 cups

These cups are for the final set 5, for practicing sums to 20.

sums to 20 adding cups stem challenge

To avoid the cups from getting mixed up in my classroom, I have written the numbers in different colored markers that match the set number on the challenge sheet. This way kids with the same numbers on their cups won't fight over whose is whose. -Phew!-

Let's get stacking

You'll get:

Peep that bonus to add the subtraction stacking cups for a discount when you bundle!

What are we learning?

Addition Cup Stack meets the common core standards for kindergarten and first grade.

Kindergarten Operations and Algebraic Thinking K.OA
Understand addition as putting together and adding to, and understand subtraction as taking apart and taking from.

  1. Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers, mental
    images...or equations.
  2. Fluently add and subtract within 5.

First Grade Operations and Algebraic Thinking 1.OA
Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction

  1. Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and
    subtraction within 10.
  2. Work with addition and subtraction equations.
child doing the sums to 6 cups
Besides adding, my kiddo is figuring out how to balance and stack the cups to match the picture as well as determining the orientation of the cups! Lots going on.

Besides the obvious, addition, kids are learning how to plan out how to move things in space otherwise called motor planning.

According to, motor planning is "the ability to plan out, organize, and carry out an action." In this case it is the ability to think about how to stack the cups to match each challenge. Will the cups need to be flipped? Right side up? How can we balance them on top of one another?

As adults this might seem really simple, but many young children benefit greatly from activities that involve fine motor planning, like this free printable STEM challenge.

Wanting to keep stacking cups?

Did you love this addition STEM challenge? I know I did!

I've finally finished the subtraction cups that use the SAME numbered cups we have already prepped. So you'll just need to print and be on your merry way. Does that count as a life hack?

level 1 subtraction fact fluency example with 6 paper cups stacked in a pyramid based on the challenge of subtraction problems set forth below it

The original cup stacking challenge that inspired addition cups is actually a reading activity that went viral this year (2023). So if you're working on sounding out CVC words (consonant vowel consonant words), then be sure to check out this activity as well. I even included cups for the digraphs sh and ch to keep your kiddos challenged.

Join our signature program
KinderReady Summer

Find out more...
My mission is to bring fun hands-on learning to your home through simple activities and games that capture your child’s interest.
[sibwp_form id=2]