“Pam. We’re having a mathy moment over here. You’d better write about it.”

Thus spoke my husband. And he was right. He and the 5-year-old were spending quality time with the measuring tape. The measuring tape (the kind that a builder uses, that self-retracts) is a brilliant, simple, and effective way to get mathy with your kids.

First, it’s a fascinating thing for a kid. It pulls out and snaps back. So cool. It also pulls out and locks into place. Whoa. It also has the potential to snap back scarily fast, providing your kid with a fright. I think this is okay, too…but…there is potential for injury. Use caution. Explore the wonders of the tape measure together, then be sure to teach your child that it is a tool, not a toy, that must be handled carefully.

Second, you can measure things with it! Okay. Duh. But this is the kind of stuff that your preschooler or elementary-aged child is learning right now. Measuring stuff is cool and relevant. So, explore around the house together for things to measure. The 5-year-old and his dad were measuring floorboards most recently. Whoo hoo!

Third, a measuring tape is a number line. The more numerical representations your children see and use, the more numerical connections they will be able to make. No doubt at some point they will be in a classroom that has a number line hung on the wall for reference. If they already have lots of practice using a measuring tape, seeing a number line on their classroom wall will make total sense.

Fourth, a measuring tape is another way to introduce, learn, and reinforce fractions. This was the conversation the 5-year-old and his dad were having. What’s going on with all those tick marks on the measuring tape that don’t have numbers next to them? Why are some tick marks shorter or longer than others? These are questions your child may come up with on their own the first time they use that measuring tape. Or they may not ask the question until they’ve used that measuring tape a hundred times. You can wait until they ask. Or you can see if they are receptive to a little explanation from you before they ask. It’s as simple as just saying, “Those marks divide the space between two whole numbers into equal parts.”

(Mathematically…you can talk about the distance between each number on the number line being the same. Then those little divisions between numbers need to be consistent, too. Have you ever questioned that? It’s the Ruler Postulate in Geometry. We just assume it because we can’t remember it not being that way. But your kid just might be young enough that if they could make their own ruler, the distance between each whole number would not be the same! Crazy kids, eh?)

Photo credit: tudedude on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA