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By Fiona Lazenby, posted on 15th November 2019

Fractions, decimals and percentages

Flummoxed by fractions? Dismayed by decimals? Perplexed by percentages? ‘FDP’ can seem like a tricky area of maths, but exploring these concepts outside school can really help your child get to grips with it and see its importance in daily life.

We’ve gathered together all sorts of useful information about fractions, decimals and percentages, including what your child will learn about them at school and our top tips and activities to support their learning at home.

What do children learn at school?

In Reception, children are expected to solve problems involving halving.

During Years 1 and 2, children learn how to recognise, find, name and write halves, quarters and thirds of lengths, as well as shapes and sets of objects.

In Years 3 to 6, children learn about mixed numbers (e.g. 1 ¼) and improper fractions (e.g. 5/4). They will add and subtract fractions with different denominators (e.g. ½ + ⅛ = ⅝). They will also multiply and divide simple fractions. Decimals are generally introduced in Year 4, and percentages in Year 5.

Activities to try at home

Here are some ideas for fun, practical activities to help develop your child’s understanding of fractions, decimals and percentages and build their confidence using them in real life.

1. Foodie fractions

Making fractions visual is a great way to help your child understand that they are all about sharing a whole object or group into equal parts, especially if they can play around with real pieces. And what child doesn’t love playing with their food?!

Pizzas and chocolate bars are familiar examples, but they’re not that practical (or healthy!) for exploring lots of different fractions. Instead, try scotch pancakes or round slices of cucumber to show younger children that two halves make one whole, two quarters are the same as one half, and so on.

Children often think ¼ is larger than ½ because 4 is bigger than 2, so comparing several slices cut into different fractions is a brilliant way to demonstrate that the larger the bottom number (i.e. the number of pieces you cut into), the smaller the fraction. By using multiple pieces of food, older children can investigate mixed numbers and improper fractions (e.g. 1 ⅚ = 11/6), or can use the pieces to start adding, subtracting and multiplying fractions in a concrete way.

Top tip 1:
Ensure that your child realises that they must divide into equal parts, i.e. quarters are four parts that are the same size.

2. Paper the walls

Feeling creative? Try making colourful fraction, decimal and percentage walls. You’ll need a few sheets of A4 or A3 paper in different colours to start.

  1. Cut along the longer side of a coloured A3 sheet to make a strip about 10cm deep.
  2. Label the strip 1 whole.
  3. Take another coloured A3 sheet and cut another 10cm deep strip. Fold and cut it into two equal pieces.
  4. Label each piece ½ and position them below the 1 whole piece.
  5. You can repeat the process to make quarters, thirds, fifths, and so on. Make strips up to tenths and stick them up to make a lovely colourful fraction wall.

Older children can make decimal and percentage walls too. They could mix up the pieces to show how fractions are related to decimals and percentages.
For example: ¼ = 0.25 = 25%.

Don’t fancy making your own fraction wall? You can download a ready-made one here: Oxford Owl fraction wall

3. Pick up sticks

If you’re out on a walk, encourage your child to pick up some twigs and branches, and when you get home you can make some fraction sticks! Having your child collect the sticks themselves is a great way to get them engaged and ready to learn.

  1. Make some labels using sticky notes or scraps of paper and tape and write down some fractions between 0 to 1. Include whichever fractions you want your child to learn about (e.g. ½).
  2. Attach labels for 0 at one end of the stick and 1 at the other.
  3. See if your child can position fraction or decimal labels in the right order between the two ends.

For younger children, use simple fractions such as ¼, ½, ¾ or ⅕, ⅖, ⅗, ⅘, 5/5 (ensure they realise 5/5 is the same as 1). Older children could match equivalent fractions such as ¾ and 9/12, use decimal numbers such as 0.1, 0.2, 0.3. They could make percentage sticks with 0% at one end and 100% at the other, or identify equivalences such as ⅘, 0.8 and 80%. You could even challenge them to use a ruler to measure the stick then calculate an exact position for each label.

4. Supermarket sweep

Trips to the shops (even online ones!) provide fantastic opportunities for exploring decimals and percentages.

Prices and measurements are ideal contexts for calculating with decimals. You could ask questions such as: How much will we spend if we buy 3 boxes of eggs that cost £1.80 each?

Special offers are also a great example of percentages and fractions being used in real life. Ask your child: What does each tin of beans priced at 60p actually cost if there is a 3 for 2 special offer? What is the new price of a £2.80 bottle of shampoo if there is 25% off? How many mushrooms will we have if we buy 500g and get 20% extra free? Encourage them to calculate mentally where possible.

Top Tip 2:
To avoid losing track of where the decimal point should go, it can be helpful to convert into whole number units before calculating, then change back afterwards. For example:

To add 3.15 kg and 2.7kg, try 3150g + 2700g = 5850g = 5.85kg.

For £2.50 – £1.33, change to 250p – 133p = 117p = £1.17.

Top Tip 3:
To quickly find percentages of quantities, build them up by finding easy percentages first. For example:

To find 35% of £60: 10% = £6, so 20% = £12 and 5% = £3.
Therefore, 35% of £60 = £6 + £12 + £3 = £21.

I hope these ideas help you to turn explorations of FDP with your child from flummoxing to fantastic, dismaying to delightful and perplexing to positive!
Have fun!

Video support

What are fractions?

Find out all about numerators, denominators, improper fractions, mixed numbers, and simplifying fractions with this short animation.

What are decimals?

Find out what decimals are, how to convert from decimals to fractions, and how to multiply decimals in this short animation.

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