The inability to divide by zero has been perplexing kids for decades. While the concept makes sense to adults, it proves more difficult for kids to understand. However, as kids begin to understand the concept of division as a whole, it becomes easier for them to understand why dividing by zero isn’t just hard to do – it’s impossible!
One of the easiest ways to demonstrate that you can’t divide by zero involves grouping objects. For example, when you divide 16 by 2, you’re saying “how many groups of two can I make out of 16?” Give kids 16 of something and ask them to place them into groups of two. They’ll come up with eight different groups. Then ask them to place the same object into groups of zero and they’ll realize it can’t be done.
You can also make the concept a little easier while tying in a lesson in sharing. Take a dozen cookies and ask them to put them in bags to give to three people. Each person must have the same number of cookies. They’ll end up with four cookies in each of the three bags. Next tell the kids to put the cookies into bags to give to zero people. They’ll end up with no bags, because you can’t divide by nothing.
Instead of having kids group objects or divide them to share, you can turn the process around. For the division problem 8 divided by 2, give kids 8 objects already grouped into pairs. Ask kids “how many groups of two can go into 8?” When they realize that they can put 4 groups of 2 into 8, explain that 2+2+2+2=8. Then ask kids how many groups of zero can go into 8.
No matter how long kids go on, they’ll never be able to make 0 turn into 8.
The same logic applies if you help kids connect division to multiplication. 8 divided by 2 equals 4, so 4 times 2 equals 8. But that logic doesn’t work when dividing by zero. For example, kids may say that 5 divided by 0 equals 5, arguing that since you’re not dividing by anything, you keep the original amount. However, that would mean that 5 times 0 equals 5 as well, and that’s not the case. 5 times zero equals zero.
Multiplication and Division Practice:
You can spend days trying to explain to kids why dividing by zero isn’t possible. While it’s important to review this concept with them, the best way to help them truly understand is to give them plenty of opportunities to practice their basic multiplication and division skills. The more kids build their basic multiplication and division skills by playing fun games, watching videos, and completing worksheets like those found at Math Game Time, the easier it’ll be to understand why dividing by zero is impossible.