Words or Numbers? – Fractions With Food

3 Jul

Sometimes when we go for long car rides (in Hawai’i, anything more than five minutes is too long), we play a game we call, “Words or Numbers.”  The kids take turns and they ask for a word (spelling) or a number problem.  They love this game.  My four year old always makes requests like, “use The Thing, Giant Man and Batman.”  And then I’ll formulate a math problem that might sound something like this:  The Thing, Giant Man and Batman were coming to pick you up to go to the park.  There are five seats in their car.  After you got in to the car, how many empty seats are left?”  And then he solves the problem and it’s someone else’s turn.  Well, the older kids are always asking for fractions problems.  So, naturally, my four year old has been asking to learn.  I kept blowing off his requests and finally, a couple of months ago he said, “Mom, when are you gonna teach me fractions?  You keep telling me but then you don’t!”  So, I pulled out a bag of chocolate chips and we went for it.

I should mention that he did already have a decent base.  Whenever I cut a sandwich, I would say, “I have four fourths.  Here’s one fourth.  When you finish that one, you can have a second fourth.”  Or, “Look, you ate two fourths!  That’s half the sandwich.”  And so on…  Totally informal, but over time, the concept sticks because it’s purposeful…real life learning.

There’s no better way to do fractions than with something sweet.  In the beginning, I prefer to teach fractions with many parts of the the whole as opposed to the “cutting the pie” method.  Most things in this world don’t come in the shape of a pie and I’ve found that it confuses kids sometimes.  It’s pretty frequent that in real life, when you use fractions, it’s to break up a group of items.  Here’s how the conversation went.

This is one group.  How many equal parts are in this group? (eight)  Okay, so, we have 1/8, 2/8, 3/8…Pretend your cousin came over and you wanted to share your whole bag of chocolate chips with him.  Can you cut your group in half?  (He divides up the chips)  Okay, good.  How many eighths do you have in each half?  (four)  Oh wow, each of you get to eat four eighths!  And four eights is the same as one half!  Now your group is broken in to two equal halves!  One half for each of you.  That’s cool!

Okay, now pretend that you guys didn’t eat it yet and two more cousins came over.  Let’s see if you can make four equal groups to share (He struggled with this for a second, but I let him work through it without saying anything and he did.).Awesome!  How many equal groups do you have now? (four)  Yup!  Now how many eighths in each person’s group? (two eighths).  Perfect!  Does everyone have the same or equal amount in each group? (after he studies it a bit, he answers with a confident, Yes!)  Great!  Is this whole group the same size group that you had in the beginning?  (Yes!)  Look!  Now that you have four equal groups, each person’s group is called, one fourth.  Do you know why it’s called one fourth?  (he studies and then counts…”Oh, because there are four of them!”)  Yes! Now we have one fourth, two fourths, three fourths and four fourths.  Put them all together and that makes one whole group!  (Kids sometimes struggle with the concept of a whole when in context with the broken pieces, so I don’t spend a lot of time on it until I know their concept of smaller groups within the whole is solid.)Then, we moved on to nine.  It seems like we work with even numbers a lot, so it’s important to play with concepts using odd numbers.  He was incredibly excited about adding one more chip.  And he really wanted to be in the picture.Going through the same process above, we worked our way to thirds.This is a process we’ve repeated over time in different settings using different groups or objects.  It was a lot of fun.  He totally loved it.  I can’t say enough (that’s code for: You’ll hear me say it again) about how great it is to have these happy moments with my kids.  Just as important, he was stoked that I let him eat his WHOLE group!

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2 Responses to “Words or Numbers? – Fractions With Food”

  1. Kailani July 4, 2011 at 9:30 AM #

    First of all, I did try to teach fractions with the hershey bar…guess it didn’t take to well. Just joking. I like the choc chip idea way better.

  2. idaho spud July 4, 2011 at 3:15 PM #

    I’m totally gonna try this with Malia. Thanks for sharing.

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