If your child is at the age where (s)he already knows how to add, subtract and multiply, (s)he’s now ready to learn the last of the four arithmetical operations, i.e., division. For many children, division proves to be the most difficult operation to learn since division problems often wind up containing fractions. And if your child comes to you for help with division, particularly division that includes fractions, you’ll probably need to review some basic math yourself before you can give him or her the help (s)he needs. So let’s review.

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Basic Terminology

If you remember your grade school arithmetic, you remember that numbers themselves come in two basic varieties: whole and fractional. Whole numbers are easy to understand. They’re the 1, 2, 3 numbers, and no matter how large they become, they represent the whole, the “all there is.”

Kids need to be able to visualize the concept of parts of a whole in order to understand fractional numbers, and they also need to understand the terminology that fractions use. The two basic ones are numerator and denominator. The numerator is the top number, the one above the fraction line. It represents the “part.” The denominator is the bottom number, the one below the fraction line. It represents the “whole.” Therefore, in the fraction 1/2, the 1 is the numerator that represents the part, and the 2 is the denominator that represents the whole.

When it comes to dividing fractions, your kids need to know another term: reciprocal. Going back to our example of the fraction 1/2, its reciprocal is 2/1, In other words, to find a fraction’s reciprocal, all your child need do is turn the numbers in the fraction upside-down.

The final term that comes into play in fractional division problems is that of “simplify.” When you simply a fraction, you reduce it to its simplest form. Take the fraction 6/10 for instance. It can be written more simply. How? Notice that both the 6 and the 10 can be evenly divided by 2. If you do that, now the fraction becomes 3/5, which means the same thing, but is a simpler way to say it. At this point, the fraction can’t be simplified any further because the numerator and denominator can’t be evenly divided by any more numbers other than 1.

Fractional Division Process

When your child has an arithmetic problem that entails dividing a whole number by a fraction, (s)he will need to complete the following three steps in order to solve the problem correctly:

  1. Find the reciprocal of the fraction.
  2. Multiply the whole number by the fraction’s reciprocal.
  3. If possible, simplify the resulting fraction.

A Cute Rhyme

You can find a lot of online help to make understanding arithmetic, including fractions, easier for your child. One such site even offers this little ditty to help your child remember the fractional division process:

“Dividing fractions, as easy as pie.
Flip the second fraction, then multiply.
And don’t forget to simplify
Before it’s time to say goodbye.”

If your child continues to struggle with fractions despite everything you do to help, your best strategy likely is to request a conference with his or her teacher to attempt to clarify the problem and get it resolved.