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How to Work With Percentages in Math for Kids

by Suzy Kerr

When children learn how to calculate percentages, they may be surprised at how much they already know. Percentages are a useful element in a child’s mathematical education -- from their grades in a classroom to a sale sign in a store, an understanding of percentages helps children understand the relationship between proportion and quantity. Before you begin teaching children how to work with the fractions and probability that form the basis of how we calculate percentage, consider tailoring your teaching strategy to your child’s interests.

Coins and Dollars

You can use money as a way of teaching percentages. Most kids are familiar with quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies and how they can be combined to form a dollar. Tell the child that a dollar is made up of 100 cents and the coins can be considered fractions of a dollar. He might recognize the base word “cent” in “percent.” Explain that “percent” means “per hundred.” An American cent represents one part of 100 pieces -- 1 in 100. Because a quarter is worth 25 cents, it makes up 25/100 of a dollar. Multiplied by 100, it represents 25 percent. Repeat the lesson with other coins.

Visual Percentages

To introduce your child to the process of calculating a percentage of a quantity more complicated than 100, draw 15 squares on a board and color in seven of them. Ask your child to show how many squares have been colored in using fractions. A child familiar with fractions knows that 7/15 have been colored in. Ask the child to convert the fraction to a decimal by doing division: 7/15 is the same as 7 divided by 15. He should come up with 0.47 as the answer. When he multiplies 0.47 by 100, he will find that 47 percent of the squares have been filled in.

Work Backwards

If a child’s strong suit is in math, you can work backwards with a mathematical equation. Tell the child that you bought a certain number of red and green apples, and that four green apples make up 20 percent of the total numbers. Working backwards, kids can determine that you have 20 apples altogether because you have to multiply both four and 20 percent by five to find the total number of apples. Working through the problem in a different way helps to create a better understanding of the mechanics -- like division and multiplication -- involved in percentages.

Work to Children's Strengths

If your child is an artist, use paints and crayons to demonstrate a percentage. For example, ask them to draw a complete pizza and then cut away 25 percent of it with scissors. Alternatively, children who love sports can see percentages in a batting average. If their favorite baseball player has a .350 batting average, they may know that means the player gets a hit in 35 out of every 100 at bats. They can then calculate that the player gets a hits 35 percent of the time. Give percentages context in order to help children see a percentage’s relevance and the way they already think about percentages in day-to-day life.

About the Author

Suzy Kerr graduated from Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. She completed her Master's degree in Nutrition Sciences, also at the University of Georgia. Suzy has been a successful health, fitness and nutrition writer for more than 10 years, and has been published in various print and online publications.

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