Exploring measuring tools in preschool

Part of learning how to use a measuring tool is to first be given the opportunity to explore the use of measuring tools through their play.

In one of our most recent activity boxes, the children found a set of measuring tools, a measuring chart, and some items and pictures to measure. The measuring box was set out on a table and I had the opportunity to observe some of the children who were exploring the tools…

The tape measure was the most popular item of all the measuring tools. This tape measure was easy for the children to use as it could be pulled out without snapping back unless the children pushed in on a button at the bottom and then it slid back slowly rather than snapping back quickly. It did take a little coaching to help the children understand how to push the button at the bottom of the tape measure…

After the children played for a bit with the measuring tools, I found an opportunity to show some of the children how to count the numbers on the tape measure so we would know how many inches we were measuring…

We talked about the word “inch” and we counted the numbers on the measuring tools. We also talked about which items measured longer and which items were shorter.

Also included in the activity box were a set of cards – they were simply a set of pictures printed from the internet onto paper then laminated. Each photo was of something the children could find in the classroom to measure…

One of the cards was a photo of a chair. It was interesting watching this little boy try to figure out how to measure the chair.

This little boy wasn’t sure which way to measure the chair so he asked me what I thought he should do. I suggested several paths to measure and he decided to go with measuring from the floor to the top of the chair…

With all of our activity boxes, we simply set them out for the children to explore. At times though, I find that a little guided instruction is also helpful. I don’t want to interfere with their natural curiosity but I want to expand their understanding as they play when the opportunity is offered up. By pointing out the numbers on the measuring tools and how each number is an inch – I saw more of the children stop and count during their play. I overheard the children use the word “inch” as well.

What I love about this and most of our activity boxes is how the play is purposeful play. The children love exploring the tools and they are learning as they explore. As the children play, I find opportunities to bring in new understanding and vocabulary without boring the children. I watch their play and wait to see when they are ready for added information to extend their play into a level of higher understanding. I am in no hurry to extend their understanding – I want the children to stay interested in what they are doing and pushing for something they are not interested in doing only makes them lose interest in the activity. So I let the children lead and look for teachable moments along the way.

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By |2011-02-14T23:39:42+00:00February 14th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Pam February 15, 2011 at 12:00 am - Reply

    Love the idea for the measuring box! We may have to try something similar to this! I have a few kids that might be quite interested in pretending to measure and “fix” things in the room!

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 15, 2011 at 12:57 am - Reply

      We haven’t “fixed” anything yet – but we are having fun measuring everything and hope we don’t break the measuring tape in the process!

  2. Scott February 15, 2011 at 11:59 am - Reply

    We love measuring tools – especially the tape measure. I have one that will retract unless you press down a button to lock it. But it does teach us to be careful when we pull out the tape and let it back in. 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm - Reply

      It will teach you to be careful for sure! A lesson perhaps you wont forget!

  3. Carri Sussman February 28, 2011 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    Is there anyway you could create a “printable” form of your activities? I would like parent help in creating the actvity boxes but when I printed out the “Exploring measuring tools in preschool” it was 14 pages long because it included all the info along the sides of your web page and all the comments that people had posted. An easier and more paper friendly way to print out ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart February 28, 2011 at 11:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Carri,
      I will see what I can do to make my articles more print friendly! What a terrific suggestion:) In the mean time – If you click on the blue link above where it says “…measuring chart… A printable will pop up. I just threw this together for you – I hope it helps:) Update to this comment: I have a button now that you can click to create a printable pdf. It is at the bottom of each post – please check that out:)

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