Apr 11, 2019 | Location Green Bay

Why do kids fear and struggle with fractions?

Many kids fear fractions because they don’t understand how they work – they mix up the parts and don’t understand what they mean and what we do to them.

Parents typically understand enough to get by in everyday life (1/2 off sale – 3/4” wrench – 1/4 tank of gas), but have a difficult time explaining fractions in a way that helps kids understand. In fact, most of us struggled with fractions as kids! So it makes sense that we can’t explain it to our kids.

Another common error we make as parents is that when we understand something, we still may not be able to explain it well. We can make some assumptions while we are explaining things and get frustrated when kids don’t comprehend it. It’s like playing Pictionary, and your team gives you the “blank stare.”

We also often find that kids fear fractions because of older siblings. If kids see their older brother or sister struggle with fractions, they automatically assume it’s going to happen to them. They have perceived fractions as being too hard for them before even having the chance to try.


Call us at (920) 309-6284 and Let's Get Started!


So how can you fix this? How can you explain this so they get it?

Let’s start at the beginning. 

What is a Fraction?

It’s just breaking something whole into smaller equal parts.

When we start working with young students, we talk about the concept of half.  What is half?  What exactly does it mean?  We take for granted the meaning of these words and assume that kids understand them.  But how would you explain the meaning of the word "half" to a 5 year old without using the word “half” itself?

We know that most kids have had to share at some point in their lives.  They know how much half a cookie is.  They know that when you share something with one other person, the 2 pieces should be the same size (equal).  Knowing that they understand this concept, we can build on it. If half is 2 parts that are the same size, then thirds is 3 parts the same size, and so on.   Even though it sounds simple, this forms the basic construct for fractions.


Next you need to understand the parts of the fraction.

Let’s start with the Bottom Number. What is it, and why is it there?

The Bottom Number, or the Denominator, is the “name” of the fraction. The root of the word, -nom-, actually means “name.” Words are important in math, too! 

So the Denominator tells us 2 things: how many parts our whole is divided into, and what to call these parts.  When we see a 4 in the Denominator of a fraction, it means we have broken something into 4 equal parts, and we call those parts "Fourths." 

The top number, or the Numerator, is the number of those parts we have.  When we see the fraction 3/4, it tells us that we have 3 out of the 4 equal parts.

At this point, you need to remember that there is a fine line between the Numerator and the Denominator.  Only 3 out of 2 people will get that fraction joke! (Those are the only two Fractions jokes I know.)


Call us at (920) 309-6284 and Let's Get Started!

So why do you need Common Denominators when adding or subtracting fractions?

The explanation is very simple when you remember that the Denominator simply means, “The name of the fraction”. It tells you what you’re dealing with. If you buy 3 apples, then you buy 2 more apples, together you bought 5 apples.

3/apples +2/apples = 5/apples

However, if you buy 3 apples and 2 bananas, you can’t add them because they aren’t the same thing. You don’t have 5 banapples! You can’t add or subtract things with different names. You have to find a common “name” for these items.

So if you change the “name” to fruit – it works!

3/fruit + 2/fruit = 5/fruit!

Fractions work the same way!


apples plus 2 apples equals 5 apples.

 – Or – 

elephants plus 2 elephants equals 5 elephants.

– Or –   

sevenths (3/7) plus 2 sevenths (2/7) equals 5 sevenths (5/7). 

You have to think of the Denominator not as a number, but as a “name.”

But what if we are adding two things that don’t have the same name?

3 apples + 2 bananas

3 pennies + 2 nickels 

You don’t get 5 banapples or 5 pickles do you?

No, you change the names so they are the same.  You have 5 fruit and 13 cents.

So if we have 1 third plus 1 half (1/3 + 1/2), we can’t add them, because the names are different. Just like if we had 1 dime and 1 nickel, those aren't the same type of coin. But if we turn them both into cents first, we can add them together and get 15 cents! With fractions, just like with coins, when you change the name, the number changes too. With 1/3 and 1/2, the common name is sixths, and 1/3 = 2/6, while 1/2 = 3/6. So we now have 2 sixths plus 3 sixths equals 5 sixths (2/6 + 3/6 = 5/6).

This is how we teach at Mathnasium.  We break down concepts into the simplest terms and use analogies like these, so your kids can understand how and why the concepts work.  We don’t want to just teach rules and algorithms that they are going to forget.


What about Equivalent Fractions? What about Multiplying and Dividing Fractions? Reducing Fractions?

We teach these topics and concepts in a similar way so that kids understand what to do, and why they are doing it. This is the best teaching method for long term retention. It's easy to forget something you've memorized, but it's hard to forget something that you truly understand!

Mathnasium’s goal for teaching fractions is to help the student master them. This conquers the fear and builds confidence! We help them to think and process mathematical concepts the way natural mathematicians do, so that they can work confidently at a high level.

Locations near
Ashburn 0.93 mi
43330 Junction Plaza
Ashburn, VA 20147
Sterling 4.07 mi
44 Pidgeon Hill Drive
Sterling, VA 20165
Leesburg 5.69 mi
521 E Market St
Leesburg, VA 20176
Herndon 7.66 mi
2465 Centreville Road
Herndon, VA 20171
Stone Ridge 7.88 mi
42020 Village Center Plaza
Stone Ridge, VA 20105
Reston 8.62 mi
1424 North Point Village Center
Reston, VA 20194
Purcellville 12.72 mi
1020 E Main St
Ste L
Purcellville, VA 20132
North Potomac 13.58 mi
12150 Darnestown Rd
Gaithersburg, MD 20878
Centreville 14.52 mi
5959 Centreville Crest Ln
Centreville, VA 20121
Fairfax 14.67 mi
11891 Grand Commons Ave
Fairfax, VA 22030
Potomac 14.98 mi
10232 River Road
Potomac, MD 20854
Germantown MD 15.03 mi
12800 Middlebrook Road
Germantown, MD 20874
Tysons 15.45 mi
328 Maple Ave E
Vienna, VA 22180
Haymarket 17.87 mi
15125 Washington St
Haymarket, VA 20169
Rockville 18.19 mi
20 Courthouse Square
Rockville, MD 20850
Mclean 18.23 mi
1320 Old Chain Bridge Road
Suite #190
McLean, VA 22101
Gaithersburg 18.71 mi
9132 Rothbury Drive
Gaithersburg, MD 20886
North Bethesda 20.42 mi
5268 Nicholson Ln
Kensington, MD 20895
Falls Church 20.59 mi
6674 Arlington Blvd
Falls Church, VA 22042
Manassas 20.65 mi
9722 Liberia Ave
Manassas, VA 20110
Bristow 20.71 mi
12705 Braemar Village Pz
Bristow, VA 20136
Burke 20.82 mi
9411 Old Burke Lake Rd
Burke, VA 22015
Bethesda 21.3 mi
4918 Fairmont Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
Annandale 21.64 mi
7000 Columbia Pike
Annandale, VA 22003
Damascus 22.77 mi
9815 Main St
Damascus, MD 20872
Arlington, VA 23.29 mi
4801 1st St N
Arlington, VA 22203
Cathedral Heights 23.51 mi
3706 Macomb St NW
Washington, D.C., DC 20016
Olney 23.96 mi
18157 Village Center Dr
Olney, MD 20832
Downtown Silver Spring 24.94 mi
1133 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Lorton 25.06 mi
9027 Silverbrook Rd
Fairfax Station, VA 22039
West Washington 25.69 mi

Washington, DC 20009
Alexandria City 25.7 mi
4605 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22304
Lake Ridge 26.5 mi
12473 Dillingham Square
Lake Ridge, VA 22192
Frederick North 26.7 mi
905 W. 7th Street
Frederick, MD 21701
Northern Silver Spring 26.75 mi
732 Cloverly Street
Silver Spring, MD 20905
Alexandria 27.17 mi
6483 Old Beulah Street
Alexandria, VA 22315
Warrenton 27.42 mi
512 Fletcher Drive
Warrenton, VA 20186
Mount Airy 28.24 mi
411 E Ridgeville Blvd
Mt Airy, MD 21771
Capitol Hill DC 28.48 mi
621 Pennsylvania Ave SE
1st-floor unit
Washington, DC 20003
Dale City 28.99 mi
5512 Staples Mill Plaza
Dale City, VA 22193
Mount Vernon 29.66 mi
7696 H Richmond Hwy
Alexandria, VA 22306
Beltsville 30.89 mi
10914 Baltimore Ave
Beltsville, MD 20705
Clarksville 31.56 mi
12250 Clarksville Pike
Clarksville, MD 21029
Laurel 35.02 mi
10095 Washington Blvd N
Laurel, MD 20723
Woodmore 35.27 mi
9101 Woodmore Centre Drive
Lanham, MD 20706
Glenn Dale 35.83 mi
10559 Greenbelt Rd
Lanham, MD 20706
Sykesville 36.57 mi
1207 Liberty Rd.
Sykesville, MD 21784
Ellicott City 37.11 mi
3290 Pine Orchard Lane
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Winchester 37.62 mi
2512 S Pleasant Valley Rd
Winchester, VA 22601
Columbia 38.19 mi
8827 Centre Park Drive
Columbia, MD 21045
Stafford 39.58 mi
263 Garrisonville Road
Stafford, VA 22554
Bowie 41.26 mi
15231 Hall Rd
Bowie, MD 20721
Waldorf 42.24 mi
3022 Festival Way
Waldorf, MD 20601
Crofton 42.6 mi
1153 Route 3 North
Crofton, MD 21054
Owings Mills 44.15 mi
9433 Common Brook Rd #100
Owings Mills, MD 21117
Pikesville 46.84 mi
1433 Reisterstown Rd
Pikesville, MD 21208
Dunkirk 49.92 mi
10735 Town Center Blvd
Dunkirk, MD 20754