Measurement is one of the most frequent real-world applications of mathematical reasoning. Although it’s a highly complex skill that bridges spatial relations and number concepts, research shows that conceptual measurement skills can be developed in the preschool years.
Start by teaching your learner to measure the length of an object—like their bed, the kitchen table, or a block structure—using their hands! The activity helps reinforce the idea that they can use any small thing to measure the length of a big thing and encourages young children to concentrate on what the measurement means (by letting them work with their hands, which they can easily coordinate) as opposed to the challenge of performing it.
1. Show your child how to align units end to end to cover a length.
Model how to place the heel of your hand at the very edge of the object to be measured, then place your other hand just in front of it, emphasizing that your hands should not overlap or have any space between them.
2. Show how you count as you “walk” your hand along the object.
After you demonstrate the technique, challenge your learner to see how many of their hands it will take to cover the whole distance. You can continue to model the hand over hand motion if needed, but only help your child to count their own hands. Point to their fingertips as you count together, emphasizing that the number should be associated with the leading edge of the unit.
3. Measure the same object’s length with your hands.
You will inevitably come up with a smaller count than your child does because your hands are bigger. Ask your learner why this is, encouraging them to think about the inverse relationship between unit size and unit count.
Besides helping kids concentrate on what the measurement of an object means, consistent use of their hands will also give your learner a familiar reference that they can internalize and build on when they encounter formal units later on. This provides an important head start in the transition from concrete, manipulable objects to abstract units like inches and feet!
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