The four mathematics operations are mathematical functions that take input values (numbers) and convert them into output values (again, that’s another number). They are addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
The four operations are considered the cornerstone of mathematics, and as such, they’re an essential part of maths lessons at school. Children might also be introduced to basic maths operations in learning environments at the EYFS level.
Children must become confident using the four operations to build on those basic real-life skills and future maths lessons.
Here’s some more information about what the four operations are and how they’re introduced to children at school:
Four Operations: Addition
In maths, adding two numbers results in the sum of those numbers. Addition is represented by the ‘+’ (plus) symbol, and it’s usually the first of the four operations that children learn about in school.
In Essential Stage 1, children are introduced to addition in the form of counting. For example, teachers might use number lines, basic visual aids, or concrete materials like blocks to support children with addition.
It’s expected that they can make the connection between counting and addition and use counting to work out simple addition problems, like 5 + 4 = 9, for instance.
They’re also expected to be able to recognize number bonds to 10 and 20 in several forms, like 6 + 4 = 10 and 16 + 4 = 20, for example.
Four Operations: Subtraction
Subtraction is taking the value of 1 number away from another. It’s represented by the ‘-’ (minus) symbol.
Subtraction is usually the second mathematical operation that children learn about at school, after addition. And, like addition, it’s often explained in terms of counting. However, subtraction is like counting backward. Children can use number lines and concrete materials to visualize and understand subtraction.
Some teachers find it helpful to use real-life examples to make subtraction easier to understand. Some teachers also like to explain subtraction using easy-to-follow synonyms like ‘take away’ or ‘how much less is…?’.
Four Operations: Multiplication
Multiplication is most often represented by the symbol ‘x’ (times), particularly in primary school. However, as a mathematical operation, multiplication can be thought of as repeated addition, especially when children first start to learn about multiplication.
Teachers can also use a number line to introduce this concept, similar to skip counting. Children will see that adding numbers to each other in equal ‘jumps’ takes them to the correct answer for multiplication problems.
For example, 3 x 9 is the same as adding three together 9 times, which is 27. The resulting number of a multiplication operation is referred to as a product.
Children are introduced to multiplication in the form of word problems at school. For example, an Essential Stage 1 student might be given the following problem in one of their maths lessons:
If Adam’s rabbit eats 5 carrots a day for 3 days in a row, how many carrots has his rabbit eaten?
To work this out, the student would have to perform the sum 5 + 5 + 5 = 15, which is the same as 5 x 3.
Teachers often say that getting the language right is essential to unlocking multiplication. That’s why explaining the different vocabulary when introducing children to multiplication is vital. It is also crucial for them to recognize the different ways word problems might be phrased so they always know what to do when faced with questions.
Four Operations: Division
Division is often described as the reverse of multiplication. It involves dividing or splitting one number into equal parts and is most often represented in primary school by the ‘÷’ symbol.
Like multiplication, children are often introduced to division through word problems. After this, they’ll move on to simple division problems, typically ones that involve halving. By the end of essential stage 1, children should be comfortable solving problems involving division, including those in context.