Links and Length

In this lesson, children will measure common household items using standard and nonstandard units.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand measurable attributes of objects and units, systems and processes of measurement
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurements

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Recognizing attributes of length and width
  • Using tools to measure
  • Measuring using standard and nonstandard units

Links and Length

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Plastic links
  • Common household areas and items (kitchen table, a chair, a bench, etc.)
  • Ruler or measuring tape

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.

  1. Ask the children for ideas about why it might be important to measure something (for example, measuring your foot when buying new shoes).
  2. Say: “We measure things to find out how big they are. When we measure how long something is we measure the length. When we measure how wide something is we measure the width.”
  3. Show the children a ruler and/or measuring tape and ask them if they know what it is and what it is used for.
  4. Model measuring a book and explain that the numbers represent the measurement of the object.
  5. Ask the children for other ideas about what they could use to measure the book (e.g., hands, markers, etc.)
  6. Show the children a link chain and explain how the link chain can also be used to measure the book.
  7. Count the links with the children. Once your counting is complete, say: “We just measured the length of the book. The book is XX links long.”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Choose three objects in the house (e.g., table, plate, area rug) and, for each object, ask the children to predict “how many” links each object may be.
  2. Record their predictions.
  3. Hand out links to individual children and tell them to measure the three objects.
  4. Record the children’s measurements.
  5. Ask the children to compare their predictions to their actual measurements.
  6. Encourage them to team up with another child to combine their links and measure a longer object.
  7. Try using other nonstandard units of measurement to measure the same object. Ask the children what they can use besides the links. Make suggestions with other items that you have, such as paper clips, blocks, hands, etc. Children will discover that using some items, such as their hands or feet, will result in different groups of children having different answers because people’s hands and feet are not all the same length!

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Length: The longest extent of anything as measured from end to end
  • Width: The extent from side to side or breadth
  • Standard: Something considered by an authority or by general consent to be a basis of comparison (e.g., standard tools for measurement are items such as rulers, measuring cups and scales)
  • Nonstandard: Other than standard (e.g.,”In this lesson, we are using links as a nonstandard unit of measurement.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Move around the room pretending to be measuring things
  • Not have one-to-one correspondence for counting links
  • Not be able to distinguish width from length
Child care providers may:
  • Count the links aloud, with the younger children pointing directly to each link and giving it a number
  • Ask children which side uses more links and then identify the side that uses more links as the length
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Want to use the links to create patterns
  • Want to only use one specific color of links
  • Confuse length and width
Child care providers may:
  • Allow the children to arrange and use the links in whatever way they choose, while keeping the focus on the measurement of length and width
  • Remind children that the side that uses more links is the length

Suggested Books

  • Inch by Inch by Leo Leoni (Random House Children’s Books, 1960)
  • Twelve Snails to One Lizard: A Tale of Mischief and Measurement by Susan Hightower (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1997)
  • How Big is a Foot? by Rolf Myller (Atheneum Books for Children, 1972)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • Bring the links outside and have the children measure the benches, the sandbox, a sidewalk square, etc. Have them record their measurements on paper.
  • Have children measure their hops or jumps or steps to see how many it takes to cover an area. Record their measurements on a chart.

Web Resources

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