My five-year-old is not ready to add mixed fractions. But, by using a fraction wheel, he is already beginning to grasp, intuitively, how fractions work.
Just today, I got out the fraction wheel pieces, and he said he wanted to “build them” himself. He put a half-piece together with a third-piece, then tried to complete the circle. He tried a fourth-piece—too big. Then an eighth-piece—too small. He could see right away, once he tried it, that a sixth-piece added to a third-piece equals a half. He didn’t need to know how to formally convert one-third to two-sixths for this, but he could see visually that one-third equals two-sixths. He also immediately saw that three sixth-pieces are a half and six of them are a whole.
Obviously I’m not going to try to teach him formal fraction conversions until he has a better handle on the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). But I think this early work with the fraction wheel set will put him in good shape to grasp adding and subtracting complex fractions later on.
I know there are some really well-crafted fraction wheels with little handles on the pieces; the disadvantage of these is that you can’t stack pieces on top of each other.
My wife and I created a simple fraction wheel set that you’re free to download. For best results, print these out using different colors of paper and then glue them to card stock or cardboard, or just print them out on cardstock if your printer can handle that. Or, as I discuss in my post about triangles, you can use foam sheets, although you probably won’t be able to print the patterns directly onto the foam sheets.
Or you can just buy a set from Amazon (paid link), which is what I did.