Teaching measurement to preschoolers does not have to be complicated or challenging. Measuring things by comparison, for example, is a part of everyday life, and you will find there are many opportunities to learn this skill through daily life.
You can also make it fun and stress-free to learn by trying these hands-on measurement activities for preschoolers at home or school.
How Do You Introduce Measurements to Preschoolers?
Undoubtedly you have already introduced measurement concepts to your preschoolers, through your words and your actions. In a hands-on and informal manner, you have mentioned related concepts in a practical way they understand.
At the store, in the kitchen, in the classroom or in the garden, you have used terms like big and small. With objects, temperature and time, you have referred to comparison words like hot, cold, long, short, heavy and light.
Compare things naturally during the day and regularly share your thinking aloud. You can also read stories, play games, and do activities aimed at measurement, to make certain you have covered all the important areas.
Also, before you get the rulers and tape measures out, it’s important to introduce non-standard units of measurement to children.
What are Non-Standard Measurements?
Standard units of measurement include those we traditionally use for length, weight, capacity and time.
These include units such as centimetres/inches, kilograms/pounds, litres/quarts and seconds/minutes.
These may be complicated concepts for preschool children, although you should be ready to explain the basics if they ask, of course.
Non-standard units of measurement are those that make use of common things known to children, as ways to compare or count.
For example, they could use crayons to measure the length of a table or a favourite drinking container to measure the amount of water needed to replenish a plant.
The length of a favourite television show episode or a familiar sports event can be used to measure time: “We arrive at Grandma’s house in the amount of time it takes for one of your sister’s soccer games.”
10 Fun Measurement Activities for Preschoolers
Check out the following preschool measurement activities for comparing sizes, using non-standard measurements, and learning the language of measurement.
These are just the beginning and are sure to give you other ideas of size activities for preschoolers.
1. Apple Measurement
How do you explain the concept of big and small to preschoolers? The best way to accomplish this is to let them experience and discover it with their own hands.
Offer a selection of apples in varying sizes. Using string and child safety scissors, show your children how to wrap the string around the middle of each apple, cutting the length when it meets.
After the circumference of all the apples has been measured, lay out the various lengths of string, straight, on a table. Children can then compare which are bigger or smaller (shorter or longer).
2. Outdoor Size Hunt
Talk about “big” and “small” and choose what to use as comparisons in your hunt. For example, look for things “smaller than a fingernail” and “bigger than a hand.”
Take along two paper bags, with one labelled “small” picturing a fingernail and the other labelled “big” and an illustration of a hand.
Challenge your child to find nature items and decide if they are big or small, placing them in the correct bag.
3. Mother/Father May I?
Also called “Captain May I?”, play this old-school game with at least three participants. First, discuss and demonstrate terms, such as “baby step,” “middle-sized/regular step” and “giant step.” What do the describing words tell us?
The person playing the Mother/Father stands with their back to the other players and takes turns naming them, giving directions such as, “Johnnie, you may take 4 steps forward/backwards.” Johnnie asks, “Mother/Father, may I?” The Mother/Father says “yes” or “no,” and Johnnie takes that action.
If a player forgets to ask permission, they return to the beginning. Another option is to have the players take turns asking “Mother/Father” if they may take a certain number and type of steps. Mother/Father says “yes” or “no.” Whoever touches Mother/Father first becomes the next Mother/Father.
4. High Water/Low Water
This is a classic jump rope game enjoyed by children for decades. Discuss the terms “high” and “low.”
Two people hold opposite ends of a long jump rope. The other player(s) take turns jumping. The rope (water) starts out low and is easy to hop over successfully. After all the jumpers have taken a turn, the “water” rises and continues to get higher on each round.
5. Lego Measurement
Gather a pile of similar-sized Legos or similar building blocks that fit together. Ask children to choose a small number of toys or objects.
Design a chart showing those objects (drawings and/or names of objects), along with a prediction and results column for each.
After measuring one object as a practice to get the idea of how many Legos it takes, have kids predict and then measure how many Legos fitted together each object measures.
NOTE: Unifix Cubes are made specifically for this purpose and are all the same size.
6. How Many Hands Tall?
Trace your child’s hand multiple times on construction paper to cut OR trace several times on a paper sheet and make duplicates on your copier. Hands can be tricky to cut out, so children may need help.
Ask your child to lie on the floor, and then arrange their hands next to them in a tower, to show how many hands tall.
With more than one preschooler, you could have them set out their hands for each other’s frame size and compare their results (bigger/smaller or taller/shorter). Children then tape their hands together to save, dated, in their room.
Read the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
Draw an enormous giant’s foot with chalk outdoors on the driveway, patio, or sidewalk. Ask children to predict how many of their own footsteps it will take to walk around the outside of the giant’s foot and then navigate from ankle to toes.
8. How Many Beans?
Another idea built on the “Jack and the Beanstalk” theme is to trace your child’s hand on a large sheet of paper. Draw a much larger “giant’s hand” around that, going to the edges.
How many dry beans does it take to cover up my smaller hand? Count with them. How many dry beans would it take to cover the giant’s hand? Count aloud.
9. Inch by Inch
On their fingers, you could show your kids how long an inch would look. Share the picture book, Inch by Inch, by Leo Lionni.
In this charming story, the inchworm measures various animals to avoid being eaten. In the end, the worm inches out of danger from a bird while measuring its song.
The language of measurement used in the book includes the following: “measure things,” “1,2,3,4,5 inches,” and “inches long.”
As an extension, make paper 6- or 12-inch rulers, with each inch being shown as a worm shape copied from the book to the correct scale. Ask kids to measure things around the room to see how many inches long.
10. Heavier and Lighter
Share the picture book, Mighty Maddie, by Stuart J. Murphy.
In the story, young Maddie is cleaning her bedroom before guests arrive for her birthday party. The book compares “heavy” and “light” and also explains that “big” is not always “heavy” and “small” is not necessarily “light.”
Show your kids how a simple balance scale works and what it proves, using two objects for which they could easily guess which one is heavier and which one is lighter.
Using the scale and chosen pairs of small objects from around the room, ask children to predict which one is heavier and which one is lighter. Show the results on the balance scale. Here are directions for making a simple balance scale.
Your wheels are probably now turning with other measurement ideas for preschoolers that you can try at home. Keep in mind that including their favourite toys, snacks and authors in the activities, whenever possible, is always a positive for kids!
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Wednesday 30th of March 2022
How do I know if the children are succeeded after this activity What they need to available to do
Thursday 27th of October 2022
@Tanja Mcilroy,I love your approach with fun, hands-on activities. So many times when I google Maths activities for preschoolers, I arrive at lots of paper worksheets. Preschoolers should learn with their bodies and with all of their senses (including vestibular and proprioception). Sitting at a table with workheets is not real learning with regard to preschoolers!
Wednesday 6th of April 2022
Hi Isabel, During the preschool years, it is only important to expose kids to the concept of measurement to lay a foundation for learning this later on. Preschoolers are too young to be expected to reliably use measuring tools, however, they should be able to measure "how many hands long the table is" or how many steps from here to there. As long as they are exposed to measurement with fun, play activities, they will learn the basic concept.