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Inch by Inch

Guest blogger: Diann Gano, M.Ed.

We brought out the tape measurers this week. Ah, nothing like a tool in the hand of young friends to get the juices flowing and the neurons firing up! Playful math! Math that is done for no other purpose than the sheer joy and fun it brings. I don’t worry that they don’t understand the concept of inches or feet or even if they recognize numbers, or have numbers actually facing them!

This tape measure was easy for the children to use. It was small and fit in the palm of their hands. It could be pulled out without snapping back unless the children pushed in on a button on the side and then slid back slowly rather than snapping back quickly. We have a few different types of tape measurers in our toolbox, and they love them all. Children love exploring with tools. The exploration, cooperation and investigation on this morning was an educator’s dream!


As the children measure every object in sight, I find opportunities to introduce new understanding and vocabulary. I often refer to this as throwing seeds in the wind. Some may land, and sprout. Some may fly in one ear and out the other. I throw them anyway. I observe their play and wait to see when they may be ready for added information to extend their level of play to a higher understanding.

We talk about the word inch. We count the numbers on the tape. Vocabulary words are flying through the air as they play. Words such as longer, shorter, taller, smaller, bigger, and wider. I see cooperation and experimentation between friends.

This is how they learn. This is the math foundation. For those of you struggling to meet standards, this is common core standards for measurement and data. This is meeting the Illinois Learning Standards for Measurement 7.C. Document it while letting them play.
A discussion begins on measuring the bike tires. They compare methods, share ideas, evaluate and modify their thoughts. The children identify objects as “different” or “the same”, “more” and “less” on the basis of the attributes that they can measure.
By using language for measurement and looking for everyday ways to talk about measurement, data and units, you can help support the children’s mathematical understanding. Bring out the tools and let the play begin!

Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree in 1986—has long believed that "the earth gives us what we need to learn" and that nature is "the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day." While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. She enrolled in the Nature Explore Classroom certification program after completing her master’s degree in 2010, and Under the Ginkgo Tree was certified as a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom Program in 2011. A member of the Erikson Family Child Care Portal Project Advisory Board, Gano has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics such as indoor and outdoor learning environments, the importance of loose parts in early math education and the impact of immersion in the natural world on brain development in young children. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award for creating a school environment that inspires children to become more active and engaged learners. In May 2019, she received the prestigious Terri Lynn Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Teacher Award, which honors 50 outstanding early child care professionals across the nation each year for making a lasting difference in the lives of the children they serve and setting them on a path to success in school and in life. She received her BS in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her MEd in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

44 Replies to “Inch by Inch”

    1. Measurement is so much fun and learning to measure and tools to do so widely vary and an excellent indoor or outdoor activity while learning math concepts.

  1. I love this type of activity! Especially if they have seen someone do it before, they get to jump right in and try it for themselves! Learning practical skills without needing to know all the things that go into it.

  2. I love the idea of children having a real measuring tape. it is a very helpful idea for children to learn.

  3. loved this idea. I have a group of four and five year olds and I would take clipboards with the to “record” their data later we could compare it ,too

  4. I like this idea. I also like the idea of the different tape measure sizes and looks. The children looked very interested in the different types of objects they were measuring.

  5. I love children learning outside and using hands on tools of measurement to measure objects/items outside. Using differnt tape measures and letting the children use measurement vocabulary when measuring. Encouraging them to use smaller, larger, taller, shorter. I love the pictures and seeing them thinking and discoverying on their own and with their friends.Cute idea.

  6. I love hands on activities. The children might not be able to read inches or feet but they do recognize visually that objects are different in sizes and lengths.

  7. I will be purchasing some tape measures to add to our math supplies. We have many things to use to measure but I believe this would get their attention and keep it. I can already see the children outside measuring many different things. They also have to work together which is an added bonus.

  8. Enjoyed this measuring blog it gave a great heads on activity that the children can do inside or outside. Thanks for sharing.

  9. wow this is really an interesting task foe children. Measuring with tape in their own way is great activity to consider.

  10. Love the use of the real tape measures! A great hands on activity, children love using tools that adults use.

  11. It is very important to teach children the concept of how to use the measuring tools correctly. That way not only do they become proficient in this specific math concept, but they learn to handle the tools properly so every child can use them.

  12. This is such a great hands on activity. The children seem naturally intrigued by what their’er doing and having fun. I like how this activity really brings out math vocabulary. I will definitely begin to use tape measures from now on.

  13. This is a genius idea and I would love to implement this into my classroom. Watching and helping the children measure and estimate is a great way to use more numbers in the classroom. The great thing about this project is that it can be done with most ages, not just the older classrooms. Since math is always relevant, tape measures aren’t linked to just a specific theme. We could use them for year round learning.

  14. Ilike that the children were very hands on with this lesson. The various tape measures are a wonderful idea.

  15. The children seem so engaged! I wonder how much work they had done prior to this with comparing and using non-standard tools.

    1. Hi Lydia, actually this was part of the investigation. We compare constantly! Who has more, who has less, that’s not fair, mine is bigger, yours is smaller, etc! Ha! This group is at such different levels, developmentally, but the tape measurers were a way to let them explore, mentor and connect their own dots at their own developmental level. The four year olds, definitely were connecting the dots in a different way than the two year olds. It was a fun way to introduce another form of learning math!

  16. I like the idea that allowing children to measure anything and everything provides the teacher the opportunity to expand the child’s vocabulary about everyday objects.

  17. Children do love to measure–and they love tools! We’ve measured things in the classroom with a tape measure–we’ve also used Legos and snap cubes to measure each other! Never thought of taking our measuring activities outside–great idea.

  18. Measuring tapes are great tools to use with young children. It provides hands-on explorations to explore the world of measuring for future experiences.

  19. As a child I was uninterested in math. I became an adult uninterested in math. I became a teacher eager to teach math because a teacher showed me how math could be fun and an exciting part of my everyday world. I now teach preschoolers how they can use math in their everyday world. Continue to strive for the sake of uninterested children to become interested in a subject that many find boring, hard or just plain old useless! Together we can show them the fun,interesting and useful side of math.

  20. This is a great activity to do with your children. By using real tools like the measuring tape to measure the trees, branches, and other objects from nature or around them is a great way to learn, have fun, and enjoy the outdoors.

  21. Even though children may not understand how to use a measuring tape, having them explore what it is on their own will help when they actually learn how to use it to measure in inches and feet.

  22. This is a great activity combining measuring things that the children find outdoors. The tape measure is fun and educational for the children to take turns with and finding other items to use as measuring tools also teaches them about measuring and measurement concepts.

  23. This is a good activity for these children to learn their Measuring also to learn other basic math skills.

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