When children order objects by size, they build their comparison skills and use math words such as larger and smaller. 

Materials: Empty food boxes such as cereal, macaroni, cake, and pudding. (You can also do this with cans.) Ask families to send in recycled boxes (cans). Instructions: Have children experiment to find out which boxes fit inside one another. Model and encourage the use of correct measurement vocabulary such as longer, shorter, wide, narrow, taller, and shorter.  Ask questions like: Can that one (pointing to the smaller one) fit inside that one (pointing to the bigger one)?  How do you know? You can go as large or small as you want.

In my program the recycled cans were a bigger hit than the boxes. The cans became a favorite block set that were used inside and out for years. They were also used in a vast array of daily play. When children have freedom in their play it’s fun to see where their curiosity and creativity take them.

It is natural for children to compare items. It’s important for providers to expand on the learning opportunities so the comparisons become more complex. It’s important that we also look beyond just comparing the size of items – how tall/short, how big or small. “My block tower is the biggest!”. Or it can be just statements like:” You are growing taller every day!”

Many programs have like items that are graduated in size. This items can be stacked into towers; lined up according to size – large to small or small to large; or nested inside each other. There is so much problem solving occurring in this play.

It’s interesting to see how children explore nesting items.

Observing you can learn how their ability to compare, understanding of spatial relationships, fine motor skills, and approach to learning (focus and perseverance) is developing. I also always looked out for what other items they brought into this play. Were they comparing how, or if they worked together, or were they more an addition in dramatic play. I enjoyed seeing how young children didn’t separate out math, but really engaged with it as just a natural part of their world. I love math and believe that if children see it as a part of their life they will not have early negative feelings, but rather build confidence and interest.

Measure distances that balls roll, or the height of block towers. You can use rulers, but a measuring tape is way more fun for toddlers. It pulls out and rolls back in. You can also use non-traditional items like: Hands? Footsteps? A favorite toy….

Measurement includes weight, volume and length of time.

Volume as far as containers holding so much of something, we see naturally occurring as part of the play of young children.

This image is sensory exploration with water beads.

I found in my program that infants loved stuffing cloth pieces into an empty tissue box. They loved pulling them out just as much. When the box got mashed, I just replaced it. The cloth pieces were easy to wash between uses. a good activity for volume is stuffing items into containers and pulling them out. While an infant does not have the language, the provide can expand the learning opportunity by talking about/counting “How many cloths can fit in the container?”. With older toddlers try something similar using different items to place in the container, or switch out containers.

Volume also has to do with weight. Any time a child is carrying something you can talk about weight. Wheelbarrows are fun to have within the program because they offer an interesting weight experience for children.

Time is such a higher level concept, yet as adults we refer to it often as part of our routine during the day. Young children do not understand what “1 minute” means, but how often do we use language like that when we talk about transitions, etc. It’s important we start developing a broader understanding of what time is about early on. Children understand routine sequences. They understand morning to night. We can introduce seasonal changes. Time in this way is more hands on.

Most toddlers love stopwatches or timers. Watching the seconds tick by gives them opportunities to practice counting. Listening to a timer ticking off helps measure out time. Getting into smaller chunks of time is more about just exposure, not really deep understanding.

With measurement it is important to take opportunities to expand learning through repeating the information shared and adding additional description to the repeating. You can also expand learning by questioning that brings in additional concepts and engages the child further. 

Zero to Three has a short video example: A Good Fit 

Next: Sequencing / Patterns / Classifying

Home page: Bringing Math Forward

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