How Can I Help My Child Understand Fractions?

by SusanM

Fun ideas for helping your child understand fractions

Fractions are one of the first complex math concepts your child will need to understand. If your child is having problems understanding fractions giving them extra pen and paper fraction work usually doesn't help them understand things any better. To understand fractions properly kids need hands-on activities.

Why do kids need hands-on fraction activities? Because kids learn concepts like fractions best by "doing" not by writing math sums on paper. So have a look at these hands on ways you can help your child understand fractions.

Fractions in Everyday Life

Using experiences that children already understand is a good way to help your child understand fractions better.

Children have seen grown ups slice fruit, pizza, cake and pies into smaller pieces lots of times. They are usually very good at noticing if they are getting a smaller slice of cake than their brother or sister too (even if they think they can't do math). This well known experience fits in perfectly with finding out more about fractions.

You can easily cut an apple into halves, quarters and eighths, Cakes or pies can be cut into any fraction size including thirds and sixths. Your child probably knows what a half is when you are cutting up a cake or apple. They just haven't connected what the see on a daily basis with the idea of fractions. If you can help them make this connection you will help their understanding of fractions a lot.

So make sure your child is with you when you are cutting up a snack, cake or vegetables for dinner. Show them what you are doing. Explain to your child about the fraction concepts that are part of preparing food. But use the food as your focus of the talk rather than more technical math concepts. The more you can connect fractions to everyday life the easier and more interesting fractions will be for your child. 

There are two problems with using food to teach fractions though. You can't be cutting up food all day. But children usually need to do things lots of times to understand. You also don't want children playing with sharp knives as part of their math learning. There are some good math toys that use this food idea in a way that children can play with again and again. These toys are better than buying books with fraction problems to solve for you child. Wait until they understand the idea of fractions first. If you give them fraction problems to solve too soon you will only make them think math is too hard. Keep your lessons to everyday things at first. 

Games about Fractions

Children also learn well through play. Luckily there are a few fraction games for kids that use food to help them learn about fractions. Keeping to the same theme (food) helps make fractions easy for your child. Once they have the idea of what fractions are you can start to include other things that aren't food. Then when they can work out fractions in real life with food, toys and other things you can move on to problem solving books. 

Games about fractions also work well with kids because children love to play. They will happily play a pizza math game even when they won't sit down and write out a page of math sums. So making learning playful with games will help keep your child interested and motivated. This will help them to learn fractions better because they will be paying attention. They will also play a math game far more than you will be able to get them to do math sums - and as they say 'practice makes perfect'. 

Picture: Pizza Fraction Fun Game available from Amazon

Books about Fractions

Children's books should also be used to help your child understand fractions. But they shouldn't be used without the real life experience or fun games.

Books are a wonderful way to reinforce ideas your child learns though watching and talking about food and by playing fraction games. But books don't give your child the hands-on experience they need to understand a complicated math concept like fractions. This means books by themselves won't help your child very much. But if they're included with the other activities I've talked about you will have a well balanced way to help your child understand fractions. 

But remember to keep to the same theme of food in the books you choose. Once they understand fractions more you can give them harder books that look at this math concept in other ways.  

So to answer the common question "How can I help my child understand fractions?"

You can help them by connecting fractions to real life, playing fraction games, reinforcing concepts with books and keeping to the easy theme of food at first.  

Pizza Parts: Fractions!
Weekly Reader Early Learning Library
Apple Fractions
Apple Fractions
Children's Press(CT)

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Updated: 09/11/2012, SusanM
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SusanM on 05/01/2012

I agree Katie. Fractions are such an important math skill for everyday life. As a music teacher fractions came up constantly - and I had so many older students who didn't understand the basic principles of fractions.

katiem2 on 05/01/2012

Fractions may well be one of the most vital basic math skills over looked. I've worked in the Administrative Business field all my life. While administering basic entry level testing for employment consideration the most commonly under performed portion of the entry test is that of fractions, common fractions seems to be the link many miss in their math education. This is useful and vital math facts.

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