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Mathematics: Measurement

red, white, blue, yellow nesting cups

Measurement is a basic math concept for time, quantity, size, weight, and volume. Children learn these properties naturally through play. Think about the concepts learned while filling and spilling, nesting and stacking. Fill the pail. The pail is full. Spill the contents of the pail. The pail is empty. Full or empty, the pail has weight and dimensions. The pail is its lightest when empty, heaviest when full. Between empty and full, the volume and the weight vary.

Children learn sizes, order, and spatial relations as they explore, stack, and nest boxes and cups in a variety of materials, each with its own properties. Consider graduated boxes. These may be constructed of cardboard, wood, or molded plastic. Both plastic and cardboard will be lighter than wooden. Having experience with a variety of nesting and stacking toys broadens children’s understanding of the properties of different materials and the ways those materials predict how the toys can be used.

Nesting Boxes, a trio of sturdy wooden boxes, can be nested and stacked. Another option, Nesting Cylinders, gives children an opportunity to experience nesting and stacking another shape. Exploring both invites an experiential understanding of similarities and differences. Similarities include three sizes of each shape. Measuring confirms the dimensions of each and shows their corresponding heights. Measuring the weight of each shows their corresponding weights. During play children discover differences as well. The small cylinder will fit inside the medium box while the small box stays on top of the medium cylinder.

Such play enhances emerging cognitive, language, and mathematics skills. Learning words to describe the relative positions of the boxes and cylinders develops spatial awareness and sets the stage for geometry. Think of the concepts being explored: small, medium, and large, smaller and larger, shorter and taller, lighter and heavier, inside and outside, on top of, in the middle, on the bottom.

Wooden toys are classic and durable, apt to withstand rigorous play and be handed down to the next generation. That said, sturdy plastic nesting and stacking toys invite sand and water play that would be ill advised with their wooden counterparts.

Children explore volume as they fill and spill the 10 round, graduated, plastic Ambi Building Beakers. Pouring sand or water from a smaller into a larger beaker demonstrates differences in volume. The child readily discovers that what fills one beaker is too little or too much for another. Experimentation may lead to discovering how many of the smallest beakers are needed to fill the largest.

How far a child goes with such experimentation varies with developmental age and personal interest. The play of a one-year-old obviously differs from that of a three-year-old. Dropping the smallest beaker into a larger one, then dumping the smaller one out, over and over again, is appropriate beginning play. Learning simple concepts-empty and full, in and out, small and large-lays the foundation for more complex learning. Nesting and stacking require differentiating sizes and ordering the beakers to fit one inside the other or one atop the other. Repetition solidifies concept acquisition and readies the child for taking the next step in learning mathematics.

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