Playing to Learn Measurement Skills

Children of this age are naturally curious, have the desire to explore, and love to feel involved. This can cause a bit of stress in the classroom if you’re not prepared. However, if you can learn to use these natural tendencies to your advantage, teaching measurement skills will feel more like playing than working. Here are a few ideas and guidelines to get you started.

First, before you even begin there are two things you must remember when teaching kindergarten children. 1. They still reside within their bodies. The outside world is completely foreign to them. 2. Connections they can make with the outside world using their bodies provide the best approach when teaching new concepts. If you desire that your students will retain any of the lessons from your classroom, tying outside concepts to physical awareness to make connections is the key.

Second, when contemplating adding measurement skills to your curriculum, you need to keep in mind that this encompasses length and width, but also distance, weight, and volume. You don’t need to get down to the nitty-gritty with kindergartners. Your job is to simply lay the foundation upon which future teachers can build. As long as your students leave your classroom next spring with a firm grip on the concepts of all of these measurement skills, you have done your job well.

The following activities will introduce the concepts of: measuring length, width, and height; comparing objects using descriptive words; charting, comparing different units of measurement, comparing weights and volumes, and distances.

Hands and Feet

A child’s first discovery is usually their hands, shortly followed by their feet. For the first 4-6 years of their lives their hands and feet have been the tools by which they explored their world. It only seems obvious than that hands and feet should be their first tools of measurement. There are two ways you can do this. The first is using their hands and feet as measuring tools, placing them heel to fingertip/toe, along objects to measure them. The second, and perhaps the next step, is to trace their hands and feet on paper, then cut them out. You can then provide 5-10 cutouts of each set of hands and feet to use for comparing measurements of objects.

There are four activities that work well involving the hands and feet approach to discovering measurement.

Prepare a chart with rows of common objects found around the classroom, and two columns marked bigger, smaller. The children will use either one of their hands, or one of their hand cutouts, to measure things around the room. Then you ask them, “Was the book bigger/larger or smaller/shorter than your hand?” You place a check in the appropriate column. Using a similar chart, with several columns marked 1,2,3,4, and 5, have the children use both of their hands and a friends hands, or several hand cutouts, to measure the objects that were bigger than one hand. You then ask them, “How many hands did it take to measure your desk?” and so on, until all objects have been measured. On another day, follow the plan for measuring with hands, but switch it up using their feet instead. Use a separate chart using the same concepts. This activity will be reviewing the information in a new way. This keeps the little ones from becoming bored with repetition, but still reinforces the concepts through repeating the process. Using a different unit of measure also lays great framework for future teachers to introduce metric vs. English measurements. Measuring is meaningless unless students also have an opportunity to compare. The charting you did in the previous exercises provided that foundation.  Take the time to discuss the measurements of each object, compare the hand measurements to the foot measurements, the larger items to the smaller ones, and brainstorm ways to measure the smallest objects (the ones smaller than one hand or foot). Your students now have a visual representation of different units of measure, comparing objects based on their size, and how to chart their findings.

Above all, remember to have fun with these activities. When your kindergartners see you having fun and getting excited about measuring, they will too.