Like all areas of math, fraction concepts need to be communicated to young children with developmentally appropriate hands on experiences and plenty of play activities. Concrete objects like pattern blocks and 3D fraction shapes enable kids to make sense of new math concepts or abstract ideas. Children need to have fraction experiences that:
- incorporate their senses
- invite them to experiment and make observations
- let them learn at their own rate, and
- allow them time to investigate a topic further
It is important that preschool and kindergarten math lessons offer opportunities for young children to develop fraction number sense. Before children are able to perform operations (adding, subtracting...) with fractions, they require lots of time for fraction games and play. This will help them visualize fractions and understand that fraction segments are equal parts of a larger object, skills necessary for more advanced fraction concepts. It is not necessary to teach symbols for fractions (1/2, 1/3...) in preschool or kindergarten.
Young children are working towards the following, skills that are necessary for more advanced fraction concepts in future grades:
- being able to visualize fractions and
- understanding that fraction segments are equal parts of a larger object,
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Introduce fractions with cooking, stories, and games
Cooking activities introduce children to the language of fractions and help them link fractions to their everyday experiences. As they take part in these activities, children become familiar with fraction terms such as whole, part, half, third, quarters. For example - Cut the muffin in half, fill the cup half full, let's use part of the whole orange, put peanut butter on one half of the bread and jam on the other half of the bread, cut the sandwich in quarters...
Use fraction math manipulatives and toys with puppets to make up simple stories
Here is a sample circle time story using an apple fraction toy, 2 puppets and a basket:
Marty the Moose heard a knock on his door (knock on the chalkboard). He opened the door (squeak) and there was his friend, Sam the squirrel..
Improvise and have the puppets take turns cutting the apples and sharing them out, keeping in mind that the goal is to introduce and help the children be familiar with the idea of equal sized pieces that are a part of a whole object and fraction terms such as halves, quarters, thirds.
Play simple small group fraction games
Depending on your class size you may need to split the class into small groups, having one half working at independent math centers with modeling clay, drawing, blocks or puzzles and the other half playing the fraction game. As children play games and play with fraction toys they will gain fraction number sense.