Your child will eventually understand weights and measures if you provide her with plenty of hands-on experiences. Sure, teachers dedicate a few weeks each school year to measurement, but a child needs ongoing, frequent encounters to become comfortable using measuring tools. If your child masters measurement skills, she will reap the benefits in everyday life and will be armed with crucial tools necessary for success in math and science.
Expose your child to the concept of measurement before he even hears words like “meter” or “inch.” Incorporate comparative language, such as “more than,” “heavier” and “shorter,” into daily conversations. Use common household items to encourage your child to measure: “Joey, let’s see how many pieces of cereal it takes to make a line as long as your spoon.” Buy a set of interlocking plastic cubes and challenge him to put together a row of cubes as long as his coloring book --- or one that reaches from the table to the wall.
Children are sensory learners who need to see and touch for themselves. Provide a water table, a rice tub or a sand box that will entertain and educate your child at the same time. Equip it with differently-sized measuring cups, spoons, containers and bowls. Include containers that hold the same amount yet have different shapes, such as a short, fat container and a tall, skinny one. Ask your child questions: “Which container will hold more water, Josie?” Let her discover weights and measures as she explores.
Kick it up a notch with older children -- set up a measurement center that revolves around solving problems. Ask your child to figure out how many cans of soup it would take to equal the weight of an elephant. Stock the center with the necessary measuring tools and materials. Focus on length one week and volume the next. Your child can solve the problems using both metric and customary measures.
There’s no teacher like experience. Include your child when you are baking cookies or making pizza. Ask him to add two cups of flour or a teaspoon of sugar. He can read the recipe and then gather the needed measuring tools. If you’re tiling or carpeting a room, ask him to help you measure the room. Even a young child will gain insight into measurement when he holds one end of the tape measure. Tap into everyday situations -- point out the scale in the doctor’s office; ask your child to help you weigh produce at the grocery store.
Play a scavenger game with your child to develop her estimation skills. Show her a book and ask her to find two other items in the house that are approximately the same length. When she retrieves the items, she can measure them. Involve the entire family in an outdoor weights and measures competition. Use AIMS’ “Mini-Metric Olympics” or create your own activities. Family members compete in a “paper-straw javelin throw” or a “right-handed marble grab.” They estimate their results and then verify them.
Customary vs. Metric
The United States uses two measuring systems -- customary and metric -- and this confuses children. When your child is old enough to understand, explain that the United States is working toward converting from customary to metric measures so our measures will parallel those the rest of the world uses. In the meantime, we use two distinct systems in our country. Show your child that a ruler typically has inches on one side and centimeters on the other. Point out that a quart is almost the same as a liter. Ask your child to find his weight in pounds and in kilograms.