This hands-on, literature-based math activity will help your younger students concretely understand the concept of standard measurement.
This post contains affiliate links.
Target Age Range: K-2
Skills Covered: non-standard measurement, standard measurement, making comparisons, fine motor skills, reading
Understanding measurement doesn’t have to be hard for little ones. In fact, teaching it early with concrete materials builds in-depth understanding that will last a lifetime!
When teaching measurement to young children, always begin measuring things with “non-standard” tools. That means you will supply crackers, paper clips, M&M’s, counting bears, or whatever else floats your fancy for measuring things. Give your child LOTS of experience measuring with non-standard measuring tools.
Comparing Measurements with Non-Standard Measuring Tools
In the activity pictured above, I wanted to help my kindergartener understand that not all measurements are equal. When mom says she needs a length of playdough that is 3 bears long, does she mean a length 3 BIG bears long or 3 SMALL bears long? Is there a difference??
I asked Eli to roll out two snakes with playdough. He placed 3 big bears next to one of the snakes and cut the playdough to show the length. He placed 3 small bears next to the other snake and again cut the playdough to show the length. It was very clear to him that there is a difference in the two measurements. I asked probing questions for him to consider. “Why is one snake bigger than the other?” “Do you think the same thing would happen if I measure something with my big feet and you measure it with your little feet?”
Comparing Non-Standard Measurements with a Literature Tie-In
We decided to see how far I could walk taking five steps (toe to heel) vs. how far he could walk taking five steps. We measured things like tables and bookshelves in my feet vs. his feet. Then we sat down to read one of my favorite math books ever, How Big Is a Foot?
In this book, the author helps a child understand the need for “Standard” measurements – like inches, feet and yards. It’s a great book to use when your child is ready to transition from measuring with non-standard tools to standard tools!
Concrete Practice with Standard Measuring Tools
After reading the book, but before jumping right into measuring in abstract terms like inches and feet, I wanted Eli to have a solid understanding of standard measurements always being the same.
I pulled out our unifix cubes and we compared them to see that each one was exactly the same size. I asked, “If mom makes a playdough snake 7 cubes long and you make a playdough snake 7 cubes long, do you think our snakes will be the same size?” “Why?” “Let’s try!”
We made several snakes in this manner to help him understand that our snakes should always be the same as long as we’re using the same sized measuring tool.
Introducing “Real” Measurements
I pulled out to rulers and asked Eli to explore them. He noticed numbers, lines and that the numbers on one ruler are in the same place as the numbers on the other ruler. We talked about how rulers are everybody’s standard measurement. I could have a ruler at grandma and grandpa’s house, cut a playdough snake 8 inches and bring it home – and it would be the same length as a snake he cut while I was away using his own ruler.
We practiced making snakes using different rulers and – surprise – they always came out the same length!
Enjoy teaching your little one about measurement in a fun, real and super-meaningful way!
Need a living math “how-to” guide? You might like Loving Living Math!