Counting the Simplest Quantities

Rose trying to make a picture of one-fifth Children can be introduced to counting with fractions with sharing problems like this one: If 5 cats share 1 bowl of milk, how much do they each get?

It has been my experience that the youngest of children have little trouble with the concept -  that each cat must get the same amount of milk, and that the entire bowl of milk must get used up. 

What they now must learn is how we name the amount that each cat gets.  "Each one gets one fifth of a bowl of milk."1

                            Rose trying to make a picture of one fifth of a donut.



The Concept

Most children have no trouble with the concept of sharing.2  For example, if 2 children are to share a donut, they know that each child must get the same amount and that the whole donut must be used up.  If 3 children are to share a brownie, they will try to cut it so that the entire brownie gets distributed and so that each child gets the same amount. 

The concept of sharing involves two ideas:

  • each of the sharers gets the same amount,
  • all of the thing to be shared gets distributed - nothing can be left over.

But children who understand the concept may not know the words.  They may know how to cut a banana into 3 (approximately) equal pieces, but not know that each piece is "one third of a banana."  By giving children simple sharing problems we create the opportunity to teach them the words. 

The Words - One Third, One Fourth, One Fifth, etc.

You can give your children a good introduction to counting with fractions by teaching them what you call the result of sharing something. Here are some examples:

Problems like these can be introduced and solved verbally.  Children can usually imagine the real objects (e.g. bowls, bananas, chocolate bars) that need to be shared - they probably don't need to see those real objects or even see pictures of them.  But what they likely will need is help with what you call the results of that sharing. Knowing how to use these words (one half, one third, one fourth, etc.) is the foundation of counting with fractions.

Here Trixie shows that she knows the result of 7 chickens sharing 1 candy bar.

But here she doesn't remember what you call each part when 3 snakes share 1 leaf of lettuce.