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10 Hands-On Measurement Activities for Preschoolers

Teaching your preschooler about measurement 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.

Giraffe height chart for kids

How Do You Introduce Measurements to Preschoolers?

Undoubtedly you have already introduced measurement concepts to your preschooler, 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, and 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 for learning the language of measurement.

These are just the beginning and sure to give you other ideas of size activities for preschoolers.

Big and Small Activities

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 child how to wrap the string around the middle of each apple, cutting the length when it meets.

A big apple and a small apple on a table

After the circumference of all the apples has been measured, lay out the various lengths of string, straight, on a table. Your child can then compare. Which one is 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 with “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.

Measurement Games for Preschoolers

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.”

Children playing Jump Rope

Two people hold opposite ends of a long jump rope. The other player(s) take turns jumping. The rope (water) starts out low and easy to hop over successfully. After all jumpers have taken a turn, the “water” rises and continues to get higher on each round.

Non-Standard Measurement Activities for Preschoolers

5. Lego Measurement

Gather a pile of similar-sized Legos or similar building blocks that fit together. Ask your child to choose a small number of toys or household objects.

Design a chart showing those objects (drawings and/or names of objects), along with a predict and results column for each.

After measuring one object as a practice to get the idea of how many Legos it takes, have your child 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 the 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.

7. Giant!

Read the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Jack and the Beanstalk Story

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 to 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.

Exploring the Language of Measurement

9. Inch by Inch

On his fingers, you could show your child 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. At the end, the worm inches out of danger from a bird while measuring its song.

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 preschooler how a simple balance scale works and what it proves, using two objects for which she could easily guess which one is the heavier and lighter.

Using the scale and chosen pairs of small objects from around the room, ask your child 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!

Would you like a year of done-for-you, ten-minute activities to teach your 3-5-year-old through play? Get your copy of the Learning Through Play Activity Pack for only $27.

Activity Pack for preschoolers

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