Measure and Compare

Measure and Compare

Being able to measure  is an important life skill that we all need and will use in different contexts or situations.
As they grow children develop  skills of estimating (how many sweets are left in the packet), choosing (which digger can scoop up the most muck) and using measuring instruments  (the jug in the water tray which gauges and measures water).  They gauge distance ‘can  I crawl out before Mum catches up’ and weigh up options ‘ can I carry all these blocks in one go?’


Children measure all the time, ‘how long is it till my birthday?’ ‘we’re  going on holidays for 5 days’ and it involves a range of different concepts such as length,weight, capacity,area,volume, time and density.1 Comparisons of size are important to children, for example, who has the largest teddy, the longest pencil, or who made the tallest sandcastle?

Children learn best through play and it is in the everyday activities that measuring, estimating, contrasting and comparing can be enouraged and explored. Adults will support the development of concepts and language, providing opportunities to encourage estimation and approximation and to make comparisons beween weight, lengths and capacities.

Children bring their mathematical experience to play.  In the ‘car race’ Learning Story for example, children measure time and speed, calculate gradient and discover which car is the fastest.  The practitioner recognises the children’s interest, wonders how the learning can be extended and so begins the experiment.  In the  ‘Big and Small’ Learning story , very young children are measuring all kinds of things including themselves!  As they measure and compare the children are developing concepts and layering in the foundations of critical thinking.



Measurement is an important way for young children to look for relationships in the real world.The concept of time can be difficult for young children to grasp.They will start to understand the concept of time passing and sequencing of events, as they become familiar with the routine of their day – wash, dress, breakfast etc. Language such as today, yesterday, morning, afternoon,next, before , after…should be used so that this language becomes familiar in context for the children.2

Although children may not be able to ‘tell the time’ until around 8 years of age, they can use clocks, watches and things like sand and water timers as part of their everyday life, and as shown above in the ‘car race’ Learning Story. Have a clock in the home corner, and draw attention to it at snack time, lunch time and home time, to increase children’s awareness of clocks as a measure of time. A calendar in the service with the date, and day of the week will help children to recognise the sequence of days.Birthdays are another example of recognising the passing of time which children can relate to.


Many daily activities involve measurement: cooking,setting the table, gardening, grocery shopping, and telling the time for example. Involve children  in everyday tasks such as putting the tablecloth on the table- which in itself is an example of children understanding the concept of area- ie does it cover the table, does the tablecloth fit?



Think about the language you use with children when discussing the size of objects:

Descriptive language: big, little, long, short, thin, wide, tall, weigh, heavy, light, full, empty, cover, fit, large, small. 
Comparative language Encourage children to make comparisons of various objects they encounter, by asking which is longer, smaller etc 




Stories like Jack and Beanstalk and ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’, have examples of different sizes, measurement and comparison. These stories can also be acted out by the children using various props to reinforce these concepts.



Use different instruments and explore different tempos and rhythms, and different volumes to emphasise big and small – ie quiet as a mouse, loud as an elephant. Play the instruments fast, loud, becoming quieter, slower and so on, which reinforces the acquisition of mathematical language and is fun!


Songs and rhymes

Sing songs and say rhymes that that use the mathematical language described above, and that use movement to describe the words as well, such as I’m a little Teapot, Can you move like me, and so on.


Make music

Use clapping, drum beats, animal noises, and various sounds to make and explore different rhythms and patterns. Also use percussion instruments to accompany singing.




Cooking with children is excellent for learning measurement skills. Rules of a recipe; understanding and experimenting with amounts; pouring and measuring; are very visual, auditory and tactile.



Use a calendar to talk about the date, the day of the week, and the weather.  Calendars reinforce counting, sequences, and patterns.Birthday charts also help to  highlight the passage of time – one year older.



What’s the time Mr Wolf? Simon Says- walk as tall as a house, small as a mouse…


Block and Construction Play

Building and construction activities encourage learners to think of design, measurement, shapes and sizes. It also encourages mathematical language such as corners, angles, straight lines, middle, left, right, circle, triangle, to name a few.Make models and compare them to find out which is the longest, widest etc.



By planting seeds you can help develop children’s understanding of time and the life cycle of plants.
Watch as the plants grow and measure them against each other. Which is the tallest, smallest?and so on.
Discuss the different seasons and plant different items at different times of the year so children can measure and record their progress.When going on walks outside encourage children to find the tallest tree, shortes path, widest sign and so forth.



Use moving toys to explore rates of speed both inside and outside. Children might want to construct ramps outside out of various building materials, and predict which toys will move the fastest.


Sand and Water Play

Playing in water or sand with containers of different sizes; shovels and buckets; all encourage knowledge in volume, estimation, and measurement.


Use different spoons, cups and containers to scoop up the water and empty it out again. Make predictions about filling up the different sized things and on transferring the water from one container to another. How long does it take different amounts of sand to flow through a funnel? a sieve? Do different sizes of funnels and sieves make a difference? Does wet sand move faster than dry sand? How many buckets of sand are needed to build a large sandcastle? Put a small sieve in the water and ask what will  happen when you try and scoop up water with it? Use sponges and talk about squeezing and squashing, heavy and light, wet and dry.


Role Play

Re-enactment of different stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears using props from the home and dress up corner. Have a Teddy bears tea party with different sized bears and cups and implements.


Links to Aistear:

Exploring and Thinking:

Aim 1 Children will learn about and make sense of the world around them:
In partnership with the adult, children will : develop a sense of time, shape, space, and place
Aim 2

Children will explore ways to represent ideas, feelings, thoughts, objects, and actions through symbols.
In partnership with the adult, children will

  • make marks and use drawing, painting and model-making to record objects, events and ideas

  • become familiar with and associate symbols (pictures, numbers, letters, and words) with the things they represent

  • build awareness of the variety of symbols (pictures, print, numbers) used to communicate, and use these in an enjoyable and meaningful way leading to early reading and writing

  • use letters, words, sentences, numbers, signs, pictures, colour, and shapes to give and record information, to describe and to make sense of their own and others’ experiences




1&2Montague-Smith,Ann.Mathematics in Nursery Education.London:David Fulton Publishers, 2nd ed.2003

Share this post

More to explore

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

In Policy in Focus this week, we unpack a new book ‘Early Childhood in the Anglosphere – Systemic failings and transformative…
Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Oireachtas Report . “Early learning and childcare is a public good” – Minister O’Gorman The funding model, “Together for Better,…

Share this post

More to explore

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

Early Childhood in the Anglosphere

In Policy in Focus this week, we unpack a new book ‘Early Childhood in the Anglosphere – Systemic failings and transformative…
Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Policy in Action 21 May 2024

Oireachtas Report . “Early learning and childcare is a public good” – Minister O’Gorman The funding model, “Together for Better,…