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Measurement Activities for Early Childhood Students

By Andrea Coventry

Young children love to talk about how HUGE something is and are fascinated by teeny tiny things. Use this fascination to teach them about measurement in the classroom.

Montessori Activities and Variations to Teach Size

Montessori Pink Towner Prior to using materials to teach measurement activities, early childhood students need to have an understanding of the concepts of size. They need to understand the opposite extremes, best taught through manipulative activities. Use Montessori sensorial materials and/or variations. Isolate and identify the two extremes before grading them.

  • Large/Small (Big/Little) - The Montessori Pink Tower consists of ten cubes. The smallest is 1 cm cubed; the largest is 10 cm cubed. Children also learn about big and little as they fit knobbed cylinders into a block. They also stack colored knob-less cylinders. These concepts can also be illustrated using nesting toys and by grading stacked blocks. Similar cylinder block sets exist outside of Montessori companies.
  • Thick/Thin - Montessori uses a series of ten brown prisms to illustrate the difference between thick and thin. All of the prisms are the same length, but the thickness ranges from 1 cm to 10 cm. The knobbed and knob-less cylinders also can demonstrate these differences.
  • Long/Short - The ten Montessori Red Rods are all the same thickness, but range in length from 1 decimeter to a full meter. As the child carries each one, his arms must extend longer to feel the differences in length. Use tabletop rods or cusiniere rods for a similar, yet less dramatic effect.
  • Heavy/Light - Montessori uses the Baric Tablets, which are different types of wood with varying weights but cut to the same size. Make a basket of items that are of different weights. Sort them by light and heavy.

Activities for Length

Measure length with a ruler Practice measuring length by finding objects that are uniform in size, such as paper clips, links, unifix cubes and small wooden cubes. Measure objects by laying these items end-to-end and by counting them. "This pencil is six paper clips long." "My arm is twelve links long."

Start proper measurement with a ruler that only has hash marks on each inch or centimeter. It is helpful for it to also have a "0" mark. Show children how to line up the "0" mark to one end of the item being measured. Then, they should label the measurement as being the closest hash mark.

Eventually, start using rulers that have more hash marks. Have children try to make their own rulers. Give them a list of items to measure around the room, or let them explore their own curiosities. For fun measurement activities, have them use a cloth measuring tape to measure each other's arms, legs, etc. Keep track of height throughout the year on a growth measurement chart.

Quantity and Equivalency

Measure quantity with measuring cups Early childhood measurement activities for quantity and equivalency can be good practice for fine motor skills. Have children practice pouring skills as they pour water into a small measuring cup. Ask how many of those small cups it takes to fill a bigger cup. Do the same while scooping birdseed or rice from a bowl.

Use measuring spoons to fill these cups. See how many tablespoons are in a cup. Again, ask children direct questions or allow them to experiment. Further practice these skills in your cooking activities.

Introductory Weight Activities

Learn weight with a balance. Start practicing weights by using a balance. Children can put an item from the classroom in one side and then use a uniform item on the other side. "How many stones does it take to balance this block?" Eventually, use actual weights such as fishing weights to measure an actual amount in grams or ounces.

Use a real digital scale so that children can practice measuring in pounds. A digital readout will be easier for them to understand until they learn how to read the hash marks of a traditional scale. They can have fun measuring their own weights, the weights of their friends and objects from the room. Graph the results.

When possible, include the child's body and familiar objects in the measurement activities. Early childhood students learn best when they are directly involved in hands-on, concrete lessons.

Photo credit:

Mark Millerman

Lynn Cummings

Stephen Stacey