Starting With Fractions, by Angela Berkeley

FRACTIONS!  They are among the Great Shoals of homeschooling.  Kids learn them.  Kids forget them.  Kids expect parents to know them thoroughly enough to help with them quickly and casually.  Kids don’t always understand them very well.  Adults don’t necessarily know, understand, or remember them well enough for facile use, let alone facile teaching of them.

One of the best ways to begin teaching about fractions is through casual, everyday exposure.

I like to start with measuring cups, with dollars, quarters, and dimes, and with rulers with wholes, halves, quarters, and eighths marked.  I think it’s helpful and instructive to give kids exposure to this and talk with them about the conclusions that could be drawn from these examples in an informal way – before their math curriculum starts teaching fractions.  For instance, in cooking it’s easy to start playing with adding or subtracting partial cups to make up whole cups.  In measurements it is easy to point out that 3/8 is in between 1/4 and 1/2.  In counting money, it is easy to group pennies into piles of ten, and point out that that is the same value as one dime.  This gives some concreteness to fractions that is very helpful in everyday life.

It also gives me something to picture when I’m thinking about a fraction problem.  If I can picture two 1/4 cup measures of rice adding up to one 1/2 cup measure, that enables me to remember the equation 1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2.  If I reflect on that equation I notice that 1/2 is bigger than 1/4.  From this I can extrapolate that a single piece with a larger denominator (bottom number) means a SMALLER amount than a single piece with a smaller denominator.  In other words, 1/2 > 1/4.  This is counter-intuitive to most kids and many adults, thus giving kids experience with measuring devices before introducing fractions very much is helpful to them.

So I encourage you to cook and measure and pay for things with your children and while doing so, to work information about fractions into your conversations with them.  This is a great way to make it easier for them to learn about fractions formally later on.

Angela Berkeley–Although Angela Berkeley wanted to homeschool her daughter, she was unable to find others to partner with in this endeavor and felt that it was unfair to homeschool an only child; so she enrolled her in kindergarten. However, because the family was facing a mid-semester cross-country move during their daughter’s first grade year, she pulled her out to homeschool until they settled into their new home. This went so well, and her daughter liked it so much, that they ended up homeschooling through 8th grade.  Using an eclectic classical style, this was an extremely successful process, producing a confident, personable, and academically well-prepared entrant into a local high school.

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