It can be hard for a toddler to understand what simple terms like “half” and “quarter” mean without giving them a visual.
Introducing fractions to a preschooler not only helps them to visualize everyday terms like “half” and “quarter” but also gives them an excellent head start in learning about this sometimes challenging concept.
Many children start to learn about fractions around the first grade, but this gives your child a great head start and allows them more time to really understand the concept.
In this experiment, we are letting our supplies define a fraction. When your preschooler sees something whole (like a paper plate, in our experiment) be separated into smaller portions, it will allow them to understand that a fraction is just a part, or piece, of a whole.
How to make the Simple Fractions math experiment
Supplies you will need
For the Simple Fractions experiment, you’ll need:
- Two paper plates
- A marker
- Scissors (or toddler scissors, if you want them to cut the plates)
- Other objects, like an apple or an orange
Before you start
Because there are sharp objects involved in this experiment, please be sure to watch your child carefully and handle the cutting of the supplies yourself, if you are using sharp scissors. If you use toddler scissors, just be sure to keep an eye on your toddler while they cut.
Here is how to do the Simple Fractions experiment with your toddler:
Step 1: Create your 1/2 fractions
I drew the fraction on the paper plate, drew a line down the middle to demonstrate on a full paper plate, then cut the paper plate in half.
This is a great opportunity to talk about how fractions work!
You can show a full paper plate to your child, then draw right down the middle to show two sides. That can be the extent of it, or if your child is more of a visual learner, you can bend the paper plate in half to explain it further.
Then, once you’ve talked about it, go ahead and cut the plate in half.
Get your preschooler involved: If you are comfortable with your toddler using kid-safe scissors, then draw a line halfway down the paper plate and let them try to cut along the line to create the fraction (you may need to guide them).
Step 2: Create the 1/4 fractions
The same goes for this step, except we are talking about quarters instead of halves.
You could hold two quarters alongside the half fraction paper plates to show that quarters are simply half of a half. You could also draw quarter fractions on the back of your half fractions to show it that way.
Get your preschooler involved: Again, if you’re comfortable with your toddler using appropriate, kid-safe scissors, allow them to do the cutting (with guidance).
Step 3: Demonstrate the fractions on another object (like an apple)
This step is more easily demonstrated on an object that is also round like paper plates. I chose to use an apple to demonstrate half and quarter fractions because it looked just like the half and quarter fractions that we cut out of the paper plates.
First, cut your object in half and hold up the paper plate fraction alongside it. You could piece the object back together and piece the paper plate back together to show each as a whole again, then take them apart to show them in half.
Either way, with each cut you make, have the paper plate fraction nearby to help your child identify the fraction with the look of the object.
The math behind the Simple Fractions experiment
The Simple Fractions experiment teaches:
- A few of the simplest fractions to introduce the concept – one half and one quarter
- How fractions work
How it works
While fractions are a concept that is typically not introduced until about first grade, they are an important concept and can easily be taught from home with everyday objects.
I found the best way to introduce the concept of fractions was to have a few paper plates with the fractions drawn on them and then cut the plates to represent the fractions. Then, once we talked about each fraction, we started to experiment with different objects.
Simplest fractions to introduce the concept
For this experiment, we are sticking to very basic fractions. The goal here is not to overwhelm but to show how whole numbers can be broken down into smaller pieces.
Here, we are showing:
- What fractions look like (the number itself and cutting down an object)
- Where we see fractions – half a sandwich in their lunchbox, an apple cut up into 6 pieces, filling their cup up halfway with water (i.e., fractions are everywhere!)
How to explain how fractions work
Explaining how fractions work is easiest by drawing them out on a paper plate.
Here, we can explain:
- One-half is splitting this one plate into two equal pieces. Here, you can hold up the two pieces to show that they are equal and, when put together, create the full plate again.
- When we split the two halves in half again, we form quarters
More math experiments to try out with your child
- Pumpkin patterns – make a fun necklace while talking about patterns with your child
- Balance scale – build a balance scale to talk about “greater than”, “less than”, and “equal to”
- Addition fun – build a homemade calculator by sending balls down a shoot
FAQ about the Simple Fractions experiment
What is the best way to introduce fractions?
When introducing fractions to a preschooler, the best way for them to comprehend the concept is through visual tools. In this experiment, we used paper plates to draw out and cut our fractions. This easily shows the concepts of “whole”, “half”, and “quarter”.
How do you explain fractions to a child?
It’s important to keep the explanation of fractions as simple as possible when introducing the concept to a child. In simple terms, a fraction is a part, or piece, of a whole number. By coupling the explanation with a visual, it becomes much easier for a child to grasp what a fraction is.
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