Help With Fractions: Seeing Them As Numbers

Using number lines is a big help with fractions as many children fail to realize that fractions are just numbers. Once the fractions have been understood in this way it becomes easier to perform more complex changes and sums with them. Most children begin learning fractions as parts of a whole object and can identify when something is half or a quarter colored in. They will also usually be able to halve something or a group of objects yet despite having these skills many children will not have any idea where to put a fraction on a number line.

An Interesting Test

You can find out if your child understands fractions as numbers with this simple test. Draw a short number line from zero up to two. Then ask her where she would put 1/2 on that line. Children who have only learned fractions as parts of objects will mark the line at 1, or possible between one and two. These answers show that the child is either splitting the line in halves with the answer 1, or are trying to use the numbers in the fraction to answer the question, by placing the mark between the top and bottom numbers in the fraction. This is nothing to worry about, indeed it shows some creativity in coming up with solutions to unknown problems.

We can start with some really easy fractions to build confidence. Using a number line going from 1 to 10, we can place some simple fractions (halves) in the correct places. It usually only takes one example for the idea to be learned. What is clear here is that the fraction represents part of the gap between the stated full number and the next one on the number line.

Help With Fractions: The Next Step

Now it’s time to tie together the number line with the “parts of the whole” approach to fractions by using thirds and quarters. We know that a quarter means one part out of four. We also know that the fraction part of a number such as eight and one quarter refers to the gap between 8 and 9 on the number line.
Give this a try with your child. You’ll find that she will quickly be able to place any fraction on a number line. Start with thirds and quarters, and then move on to fifths, sixths and possibly go even further, it’s up to you.