Step 1: Gather materials.
- 4 to 5 different lengths of wooden blocks
- Matchbox-sized or small cars (enough so that each child can have two cars)
- Nonstandard unit of measure (choose something that you already have; children can measure using paper clips, Unifix cubes, etc.)
- Extra blocks or small figures for extended play
Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.
Step 2: Introduce activity.
- Show the children two matchbox-sized cars, each with a road made from wooden blocks (purposely make the roads unequal in length) and begin a story. For example, you might say: “Once upon a time, there were two cars that wanted to race each other. There was just one problem. One car had a long road, and the other car had a short road.”
- Ask: “Which car has the shorter road? Which car has the longer road?”
- Ask: “What can we do so that the cars can race on the same length of road?” (e.g., Add more blocks to make the shorter road longer or take blocks away to make the longer road shorter.)
- Place a variety of blocks on the table in front of you, and ask: “What would you do to make both roads the same length?”
- Choose a child to come up to fix the problem, using one of the methods discussed.
- Ask: “How can we be sure that the race will be fair and both roads are will be the same length” (Answer: We can measure and see if they are the same.)
- Use the nonstandard unit of measure (for example, paper clips) and demonstrate how to measure each length of road. Once the first road is measured, ask: “How many paper clips long is the first road?” After the second road is measured, ask: “How many paper clips long is the second road?” Finally, ask: “Are the two roads equal in length? Do they have the same number of paper clips?”
Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.
- Give each child two matchbox cars and a set of wooden blocks.
- Ask the children to create their own stories about the cars racing on the road by creating two different roads with different lengths.
- For each child, ask: “Which road is shorter? Which road is longer? What are you going to do to make the roads equal?”
- Observe the children until they have made the roads equal.
- Ask: “How can you know that both roads are exactly the same length? What will you use to measure the roads?”
- Tell the children to measure each road and check to see if the roads are equal.
- Encourage the children to race their cars.
Step 4: Math vocabulary.
- Length: The extent of anything as measured from end to end
- Standard: Something considered by an authority or by general consent to be a basis of measurement (e.g., pounds, inches, etc.)
- Nonstandard: Something used as a basis of measurement that is consistent, but not standard (e.g.,”In this lesson, we are using paper clips as a nonstandard unit of measurement.”)
- Long, longer, longest: Comparison words for increasing in length
- Short, Shorter, Shortest: Comparison words for decreasing in length
- Equal: Have the same length
Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.
Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
- Want to play with the cars
- Have difficulty measuring the lengths of each road
Home child care providers may:
- Allow time for car play before or after the lesson
- Encourage the children to eyeball whether the roads are equal, rather than measure
- Assist the children as they measure using a nonstandard unit
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
- Want to play with cars
- Want to build really, really long roads
- Want to count the blocks to determine if the roads are equal
Home child care providers may:
- Allow time for extended car play after the lesson
- Allow the children to partner with another child, so the children can build extra-long roads for measuring and racing
- The Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain (New York: Random House, 1987)
- Beep! Beep! Vroom! Vroom! by Stuart Murphy (New York:Harper Collins, 2005)
Music and Movement
- “Spitfire, Prelude and Fugue” by William Walton: Pretend to fly around the room like airplanes while this music plays!
- “Copenhagen Steam Railway Galop” by Hans Christian Lumbye: This song sounds just like a train; have children line up and move around the room like a train.
- “Pacific 231: Movement No. 1” by Arthur Honegger: Another classical song representing a train.
- Ask children to draw race tracks in the sand for two cars and identify a new, nonstandard measure that they can use outdoors.
- Race cars outside and then measure how long each car went. Ask: “Which car went longer? Which car went shorter?”