Kevin Williams is the Program Consultant for K-8 Numeracy with the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, and a senior tutor with Homework Help, the free online math resource for kids in grades 7 to 10.
Fractions can be scary for a lot of kids - and parents! - but they don’t have to be. Fractions are all around us and we make use of them throughout our everyday experiences.
Routinely I’ll hear my own children negotiating over something and make reference to the first fraction that we all get to know - “can I have half of that?” Very early on we develop a conceptual understanding for a half.
In the classroom, fractions are explored from grade 1 to grade 8. In the early grades children investigate the concept of a fraction and begin to develop the language associated with naming fractional amounts such as halves, fourths, thirds, and so on. It is important to note that students are not formally introduced to standard fractional notation until grade 4, so if you’re supporting you child in earlier grades remember not to be too concerned if they are using fractional notation. The important idea is to understand fractional amounts as being parts of a whole or set e.g. two halves of a whole grapefruit.
So how do you get your kids thinking about fractional amounts? Here are some tips.
- The Pizza Model: There are lots of different ways to represent fractions though I think most of us are familiar with the pizza model: a whole pizza cut into equal size pieces. If it’s an 8-slice pizza, then 1 slice is 1/8th, 2 slices are 1/4th, etc… This is a representation that most kids will see in the real world so it’s a good place to start. But you can do the same kind of thing with other household items like grid paper, geometric blocks, or even using containers that hold liquid (like a measuring cup).
- Not all halves are equal: Half a pizza is not the same as half a donut. The fractional amount is half, but the size of that half depends on the size of the whole. This is a good concept to reinforce and it’s easy to do with foods - pizza and donuts, or a Halloween size chocolate bar and a regular size chocolate bar - half of the regular would be more filling than half of the “fun size”.
- Not all pieces of the whole have to be the same. In grade 3 kids learn about the set model of fractions. Different from the area/region model or “pizza model”, in a set model the pieces don’t necessarily have to be the same. I’ll use my family as an example. There are 7 of us in total. We are all different ages and sizes but together we make up the whole set. Of that set, I represent one seventh as I’m the only male in the set, or I can say that six sevenths of the whole family are female.
- Bake something together! Baking is a great way to learn about fractions, because there are so many opportunities to measure. Ask your kids how many 1/4 cups are needed to make one cup? How many fourths are in a half? You can also ask your kids to estimate ingredients - how much is half a cup? And get them to figure out how much of each ingredient you would need if you were doubling the recipe?
- Put the pieces back together!: Cut up a piece of fruit, then ask your child to put the pieces back together to form the whole fruit, and have your child tell you what size (fractional amount) each piece of the fruit is.
- Explore fractions everywhere: In the car, ask your kids to check the gas gauge and tell you how much gas is in the tank? 1/4 full? 2/3rds? Or on the computer, ask them how much of the video/app has downloaded, or how much is left to go?