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Hands as a Measuring Manipulative

by Early Math Counts

Sometimes our very best tools are actually attached to our bodies.  I use my feet for all sorts of “opening and closing” needs, and my nose is the perfect choice when I need to turn the page of my ereader and my hands are inside of mittens.

Children’s hands are also a great tool for measuring.  Since each child’s hands vary in size, it is important to use the mathematical language “nonstandard unit of measure” so they all know that their answers will be different depending on the size of their hands.

What can their hands measure?  They can use their hands to measure length, by placing one hand down and then the other right next it, and continuing until they have spanned the length (or width) of whatever they are measuring.  This also works well if the children trace their hands and cut them out, so the cut-outs can be used as the measurement tool.

Hands are also a great tool to measure quantity.  Using the questions, “How many” or “How much” children can explore quantity in meaningful ways.  “How many Unifix cubes can you hold with one hand?” or “How much sand can you carry with one hand?” are realistic activities that can be explored with several children.  They will discover that bigger hands hold more and smaller hands hold less.  However, they will also find out that it takes fewer larger hands to measure a length and more littler hands to measure the same length.  Be prepared for how confusing this might be for them.

Try using hands as manipulatives and let us know  how it goes.

6 Replies to “Hands as a Measuring Manipulative”

  1. Using the hands of the children to measure spaces in the classroom will make the space more personal to them. They can say it took ten small hands to measure across the table or it took eight larger hands to do the same measurement. Hand on experience!

  2. I’ve often demonstrated feet to measure and now I see hands as equally relatable and valuable for preschool measurement! I especially like the idea of tracing, then cutting out their own non standard unit of measure.

  3. Using your hands is a great idea. This is an activity that can be done from home. If each child traces and cuts out their own hand, they have their measuring tool with them to practice around the house.

  4. I will plan for this activity. But I will have the children put their hands in a jar filled with small objects. Let them see how many items they each take out of the jar. Who got out less or more?

  5. Measuring with hands is more relatable to the children. It’s their hand which peaks their interest. Great idea!

  6. Even Toddlers can participate in a measurement lesson with hands as tools. The language will need to be simplified, but we can still describe non-standard. I am sure hand-painting could lend a hand with copy of our outcome.

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