Teaching fractions can pose a real challenge to a homeschooling parent. Fortunately, many program exist to aid in this important process and all of them involve the use of manipulatives. Math teachers and parents alike, recognize that the best way to learn and master the concepts involved with working with fractions is the use of manipulatives – objects that represent the abstract numbers in the fraction problems. For simply understanding what the fractions mean, having the child see the physical representations of the fractions and their relationships provide a solid visual reference in the now, as well as a visual memory to rely on later — into adulthood. For the more complex mathematical processes of working with fractions – mixed numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, a more elaborate set of objects will be necessary.
Any sort of physical objects will work – pieces of colored paper, cut into different shapes, plastic cubes, blocks, anything that has proportional pieces – even dough would work for the basic understanding of fractions, as long as you can cut it into equal pieces. Actually, often homeschooling parents find that baking lends itself well to teaching the basic idea of fractions, since measuring cups are all marked in fractional parts and many recipes call for cutting dough into equal fractional parts. Of course, for deeper work in fractions, it is necessary to use pieces of paper or plastic cubes to represent the numerator and denominator for multiplication and division. It is important, however, to use unlabeled objects – so do not write “1/2” or “one-half” on a piece of paper or plastic cube. The student should learn the concept of one-half by seeing it plainly and making his/her own connection with the object, not a symbolic name for the object. If the parent-teacher avoids labels, then when the child thinks of one-half, s/he will see the manipulative in the mind’s eye and maintain a clear understanding of what it means. If you search out the fraction-teaching program that suits your family’s learning style you can make the experience of mastering fractions a joyful challenge.