Children's understanding of the language of measurement, like so many things, develops with everyday conversations. They hear and make comments such as, "This stick is really heavy." and "You are so much taller now!"
From an early age, children are introduced to stories related to the comparison of size (The Three Bears, The Three Billy Goat's Gruff etc). Size is, in fact, a regular theme in fairy stories: from huge giants to tiny fairies. We reinforce this theme with talk of ‘going to big school’ or ‘when you are a big girl/boy’ etc. When we draw attention to these comparisons in size, children’s understanding is increased.
According to Skinner and Stevens (Foundations of Mathematics) 2012, there are five steps in understanding length. Children begin by referring to all distances as being 'a long way away' and describing other length measurements as big or small. They then progress to comparing length to themselves (bigger than me etc.) before increasing the number of words they use to describe length in their play. In Reception, we see step 4, where children use non-standard measuring equipment such as cubes/ hands/feet/ to measure with more accuracy and compare. Finally, children are able to start relating distance and the time it takes to travel somewhere.
This week we have been looking at length and have been comparing objects we have found, things we have made and even giant’s footprints to other objects. The children have created their own measuring scales using cubes, Lego, their hands etc. to measure and compare. We have even seen homemade measuring tapes. The children greatly enjoy measuring and comparing and a few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to have a homemade tape measure sent in by a focus child, that compared the wingspans’ of different birds of prey.
If you would like to help your child understand the concept of length/height better, you could carry out simple investigations at home: How many of my shoes does it take to be the same length as Daddy? Create tape measures/ use ribbon/ string to measure and mark the height of different teddies. Look at different trees/ plants/ vehicles/ buildings etc when you are out and compare the height. Note which one is the biggest/ which look smaller because they are further away etc.