Activity: Measure Length and Distance

Young learners can greatly benefit by having many opportunities to measure things: to learn how heavy something is, or how much liquid there is, or how far something is. It is very easy to provide opportunities for measuring length and distance. Here are ideas for exploring measuring length and distance — in a natural way:


(These generally go from easier to harder. You’ll find resources below.)

  • Of course, the first thing to do is explore the various units of measurement. It is important for your child to realize that you can easily measure your pencil with paper clips or decide how many paper clips long your pencil is.
  • When he has a grasp on how measuring works, you can teach him units such as inches, and try the same experiment: How many inches long is your pencil?
  • While working on things that are close and can be handled, explore how far away something is — say Grandma’s house. Then he can easily see that Grandma’s house is many, many inches away.
  • At this point it is easy to explain why we have feet which are 12 inches, and yards which are 3 feet, and miles which are 1760 yards — so that we can more easily measure longer distances.
  • Provide many opportunities to measure things, such as:
    • How wide, long, and deep is the baking pan you are using?
    • How far do we drive to a certain destination?
    • How long is that leaf?
    • How long is your longest finger?
    • Find out what the longest edge of your favorite book is.
  • Talk about length (the longer side) and width (the shorter side).
  • Make comparisons: Which is longer, the knife or the spoon?
  • Place objects in order by length. We used snap cubes as an easy and fun way to do this (see resources below). He can put together a certain number of cubes and measure the length.
  • Then reverse the process — make a snap cube train about 4 inches long.
  • Have your child find an object that is about the same length as a train of blocks you create.
  • Or use toothpicks as a nonstandard measure to determine how long something is.
  • Once your child is familiar with a ruler, ask him to draw a line that is a certain number of inches long: Draw a line that is 3 inches long.
  • When he has drawn a line that is 12 inches long, you can show him that he has drawn a foot!
  • Older children can begin to learn unit equivalents (and abbreviations for units):
    • 1 foot (ft.) = 12 inches (in.)
    • 1 yard (yd.) = 3 feet (ft.)
  • Have your child measure each member in the family.
  • Plot the height (length on end, if you will) of each family member on a wall from shortest to tallest.
  • Introduce the metric system by simply turning the ruler around and noticing how many centimeters something is.

The key here is that you do not need to use pencil and paper to learn about measurement.

More about measurement from The Book of Knowledge:

One of the most important measurements is length. We measure length when we find out the distance between two points. This may be very small, as when we measure a half-inch margin on a notebook page. It may be great, as when we calculate the distance of the earth from a sister planet. The inch is a unit of length; so is the yard; so is the mile. Length is sometimes called linear measure.

“How Things Are Measured”

Additional Resources
Math link cubes

MathLink Cubes
The type of snap cubes we used. Very helpful (and fun)!

8 Ways to Supplement Your Math Program
You’ll find Family Math and a few other favorites when you find yourself searching for real-life activities!

Here are a few picture books that illustrate measuring:

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