Learning to measure with infants and toddlers is important for future math learning

Measuring activities can be easily implemented into the day in natural ways with children.

Measuring spoons

An early understanding of measurement begins when children simply compare one object to another. For example, when we ask, “Which one is shorter? Taller? Longer? Heavier?” children are learning attributes about an object and that they can be measured more than one way. A rock can be heavier and smaller than a feather that would be lighter and possibly larger.

Give children the opportunity to measure things using different objects. Use their favorite doll to measure how long the table is and have them exclaim, “The table is four doll lengths long” or “The table is two doll lengths tall.” Or, “This block is 10 plastic chickens long and two plastic cows tall.” Using a scale, they can decide how many cups of sugar equal the weight of their favorite firetruck. Infants and toddlers can watch you measure and will find joy in trying it for themselves. At this younger age, we are simply building a foundation of knowledge for future math learning through exposure and experimentation.

A great measurement activity for children of all ages is cooking. Cooking gives children many opportunities to learn how to count, measure, add and estimate. Even at this younger age they might just be watching and listening to you as you prepare snacks, lunches or bake cookies. They should be able to help you with many parts of the cooking activity as possible through filling, stirring and pouring.

Michigan State University Extension provides the following ideas to extend exposure to measurement with young children:

  • Measurement includes finding the size, weight, quantity, volume and time. Use comparison words such as big and little, few or lots, when talking with children of all ages.
  • Use math talk: “The pink toy is bigger than the blue toy.” “You are taller than your sister.” “You put the smaller cup in the larger cup.” Emphasize with the tone of your voice the measurement words.
  • With children, describe how long or tall something is, how much something holds, how heavy something is, how much space is covered and how long it takes to get somewhere.
  • Between the first and second year, some children will explore quantity by filing and emptying containers with water or sand.
  • Around the fourth year they may be able to understand the concept of time. This includes concepts such as morning, afternoon, night, earlier, later and soon. Some children will be able to name months, days of the week and seasons.

Books that teach measurement:

  • “Ernest” by Catherine Rayner
  • “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney
  • “How Many Bugs in a Box?” by David A. Carter
  • “Who Sank the Boat?” by Pamela Allen
  • “Mr. Cookie Baker” by Monica Wellington
  • “Measuring Penny” by Loreen Leedy

Other resources from the National Association for the Education of Young Children:

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