Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pre-Fractions

Many children struggle with mathematical concepts when the reach fractions. Fractions are frequently their first in depth study of abstract mathematical concepts.

In reality, fractions are not abstract at all. But, for many children, the most they see of fractions are pieces of a circle drawn in their book. In order to make fractions easier for them, when they get to them, it is necessary to lay ground work. I am including several activities that are good for a range of ages.

Rice/oatmeal container: For very young children (ages 1 and up), one of the best activities you can have them do is playing with measuring cups. This activity will also help you get things done in the kitchen. Buy a large storage container (maybe 20 cups or so). Fill it with rice or oatmeal. Put several different size measuring cups inside the container, or in a different container. Not only will playing with these measuring cups begin to give them an idea of the way measurements work together, it is a great way to keep them busy while you work. I will warn you that this can be an extremely messy activity. I had one of these for Dominic. I just swept up when he was finished playing, and threw it in the trash. The small amount of sweeping was worth the quiet time. Plus, he was learning about fractions, and improving his hand-eye coordination at the same time.

Building Blocks/ Legos: I believe that a lot of little girls get gypped out of a good grounding in mathematics because they don't use building toys. If you have an especially 'girly' girl, Lego makes pink Legos, as well as dollhouse building sets. So, there's something for everyone.

Building blocks and Legos provide a hands on fractions activity that most children are willing to learn from. When children build with these, they notice that two square blocks equal a rectangular block. They also notice that two "4 block" Legos equals one 8 block Lego. If you take a few minutes to point out that 1 4 block is 1/2 of an 8 block, they will begin to notice the fraction aspect of it, as well.

Cooking: Obviously, the most common method of teaching hands on fractions is cooking. If you are willing to cook with your child from a young age, they will come to fractions with a good grounding of what they are going to be dealing with. Will that make fractions easier for them? Definitely, it will. But, you can help your child do even better by doubling, halving, and tripling recipes. This makes them begin to see how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions before they ever see fractions on paper.

Counting Money: This is a skill that many children begin learning in Kindergarten. As a result, it is a skill you can put to good use to introduce fractions. The most obvious application being with quarters. If you can find some, get half dollars, too. Explain that a quarter is, literally, a quarter, or one fourth, of a dollar. Have them add and subtract these. You can do this with nickles (1/20), dimes (1/10), or pennies (1/100). You could make some note cards with various fractions on them and have the students make those fractions with coins. For instance, if the note card had 5/20, the child would put 5 nickles on that note card. Then, if you wanted to take it further, you could have the child tell you what the monetary amount of 5 nickles is.

Preschool/Kindergarten Game: This game could probably be used with older children, as well. This is a game similar to the money game. However, instead of using money, you'll use pieces of paper or cardboard. Draw several grids. You could start with halves, thirds, and fourths. You can do this by dividing papers into halves, thirds, and fourths. Also, create matching 'fractions' to go with them. IE papers cut into halves, thirds, and fourths. You may want to color them to make them easier to see.
Then, create note cards with various fractions on them.

First have the children match up the written fraction with the proper grid. Then, have them put the proper number of portions on the grids. Below, the cards read, from left to right, 1/2, 3/4, and 3/3.

Most of all, have fun with fractions!

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