Fraction manipulatives are hands-on math tools that help kids understand fractions by physically moving around the pieces. They come in two types.
Fraction strips are bars that show a whole, two halves, three thirds, and so on.
Fraction circles are divided into "pie pieces" that show different fractions of a whole circle.
Both types of fraction pieces help kids experience what fractions are all about—to see how big 1/2 is compared to a whole, and to understand why 1/2 is larger than 1/4.
Fractions can be tricky to grasp. They are odd-looking numbers, and frankly seem kind of scary to kids (and, let's be honest—they are scary to a lot of adults, too).
But fractions are a lot easier when you can see the objects themselves, mess around with them, and get to know them intuitively. The idea of breaking a whole into parts makes sense, and kids can use these manipulatives to show fraction relationships very easily.
On the other hand, written fractions often don't make sense. Why should one number be written on top of another? Why is one-eighth smaller than one-fourth? Kids need to see the actual objects in order to understand this concept.
Fraction pieces can:
There is no trick to "using" fraction strips—just have them available when kids are doing any sorts of fraction problems. Use them to make fractions, compare fractions, or put fractions in order. As kids progress, they can use these same manipulatives to add or subtract fractions, find common denominators, and so on.
I do like having both strips and circles to show fractions in different ways, but if I had to choose one, I would pick fraction strips. It is easier to compare fractions by lining them up side by side, and kids seem to have an easier time using them than the circle version.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Fraction Cubes: These are colorful linking cubes that let kids put fraction pieces together by linking the plastic blocks. Some versions include equivalent decimals and percentages on other sides of the blocks.
Foam Magnetic Fraction Strips: I love this magnetic version. Kids can use them on a white board or refrigerator, or just use them on a table top without bothering about the magnets. They are colorful and a great size for small fingers.
Plastic Fraction Tiles: An inexpensive, colorful set for helping kids visualize fractions. This set comes with a tray for lining them up.