Why Do Kids Struggle with Learning Fractions?

I have worked with so many children who struggle when we move into fractions. Over the years, I have noticed a few things that might explain why they are struggling with this concept. 

Kids don’t understand fractions because they are so abstract. Children are used to seeing whole numbers in standard form (example: 4). Suddenly, we shift the way the numbers look and we add things like fraction bars. ⅘. What is this bar? What is the 5 on the bottom? What happened to the numbers the kids are looking at? If the foundations for the child are not strong enough, they are left to wonder what has happened to the numbers. 

Another example of a problem they experience is, they struggle to relate to the idea of fraction because they don’t see how a fraction fits into their world. 

Fractions have a lot of rules. Kids learn new vocabulary like equivalencies, simplify, reduce, greatest common factor, least common multiple, numerator, denominator, reciprocal, and others. 

There are a lot of complex rules. Kids need to remember a lot of rules and it can get very confusing. There are rules for adding and subtracting and there are rules for multiplying and dividing. The kids get lost in all of the rules. 

Kids get confused and don’t realize that a fraction is another form of a decimal and they get confused as they learn this idea. 

Kids with poor foundations in basic math skills struggle to find answers to the problems because they are still trying to determine the basic math facts. This leads to errors in the math algorithm (the steps it takes to solve the math problem). 

We can see that this leads to lots of other confusion, frustration, and sometimes tears! No wonder they are confused. 

What is a parent supposed to do? Here are a few suggestions that you may want to consider, and these are things that you can do at home!

  1. Brush up on all of the math facts. If you have followed me for any length of time, you know how important I feel this is. If your child can do calculations for their math facts quickly, then they are going to be much more confident as they learn new mathematical skills. They won’t stop when they are thinking about answers to their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts and they can focus on the actual steps it takes to add, subtract, multiply, or divide their fractions. And, don’t forget about those mixed numbers (whole numbers with fractions: 4 ⅓ ). 
  2. If your child is learning a new skill and you aren’t familiar with it, do your best to learn along with them. I LOVE khanacademy.org because the founder, Sal, has done an amazing job of curating wonderful videos with practice problems for the learner to work through. You can search his site for the concept your child is working on, and the grade level, so you can find exactly what you are looking for. 
  3. Go to Pinterest or Google Images and look for images that have already been created that have the directions for the steps within the mathematical process. If your child is doing addition of fractions with unlike denominators, search for images that show the steps and follow along. This is as easy as a few clicks on your computer or other device, and then you have examples to follow as you practice the problems at home. 
  4. If you are not able to show this abstract concept yourself, look for videos from other educators that support the concept and watch them with your child. Then talk about what you have seen. 
  5. Relate how a decimal is the same as a fraction. Start with money! It takes 100 pennies to make a dollar. If we had 25 cents, that is 0.25 of the full dollar. That amount can be written as 25/100. 
  6. Get creative in the kitchen! Find recipes that you want to make and create those with your children! It is so important that your child understands measurements and while we are cooking or baking, we are using measuring cups. Those measuring cups have fractions on them. Use these to help your child understand 1, ¾, ⅔, ⅓, ¼. This will go a LONG way to their basic understanding of fractions. 

Hopefully these ideas will give you the confidence to help your child at home with their fractions. However, if you feel like you cannot support their understanding of these ideas, do not wait for them to figure it out on their own. That may not work for your child. Find resources and trained professionals that can support your child so they get a firm grasp of fractions. Fractions are going to continue to show up as your child advances in school. They won’t just be in math. Don’t forget that your child will see them in their science classes as well. You want them to have a great foundation to grow on!

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Published by Tutoring with Sheryl

I have 32 years of experience teaching in public schools in Nebraska. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincon. I hold a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Doane University. I have 2 Google for Education Certifications. I have been tutoring online for 1 year. I have worked with countless students of all ages to support their education. I also support teachers with planning and management in their classrooms.

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