We had collected a lot of pumpkin seeds after carving our Jack-O-Lanterns. I thought we could roast them, but my idea was unanimously vetoed.
One afternoon after they got back from playschool, we did a measurement activity using pumpkin seeds.
While doing measuring activities standard units of measurements like centimetres and metres are too abstract for young children. This is where non-standard units are useful. They make the measurement activity meaningful and age appropriate.
Using objects that kids can see and manipulate enables them to understand the particular ‘attribute’ that we are measuring. In this activity, we measured four different objects using a fifth object-pumpkin seed!
An important consideration when you measure using non-standard units is to line up the objects without any gap. I showed my children how to line up the seeds so they touch one another. They took care to keep the seeds together.
We started with the idea of measuring ourselves. D really wanted to do it herself. So I had her lie down and put a length of tape on the carpet next to her.
This way she could line up the pumpkin seeds against the tape herself. As I started talking about the activity, I said, “Let’s see how many pumpkin seeds tall you are…” and stopped. You see, here I was talking about the height (tall) but with the tape on the carpet it looked we were measuring the length! Talk about mixing up attributes!
We had a little discussion on how when we are ‘tall’ when we stand up but are ‘long’ when we lie down. So now we measured how long we were, as we lay down on the floor.
The pumpkin seeds were perfect as a measuring unit for another reason. They are reasonably close in size and shape. As they lined them up one after the other, the kids could see how they were repeated from one end of the tape to the other. Remember this is what a ruler is all about—centimetres and inches repeated consistently. They were in effect using a pumpkin seed ruler!
After D had lined up the pumpkin seeds, we counted them. As we came to the multiples of ten, I wrote the number down and she copied it down.
L couldn’t bear to be left behind. So he lay down on the carpet, got his tape ready and lined up the seeds as best as he could.
Next we compared who needed more seeds to measure their length. D was thrilled that she was ‘longer’ and kept reassuring L, “Just wait until you are 5. You will need more seeds then.”
He is 2 ¼ years younger but only a handful of seeds shorter!
The kids were so excited about the activity that they wanted to measure more objects.
I sent them over to pick any four objects from their room, so we’d have a variety of lengths to measure. They came back with their ‘pet’ snake, the telescope, a book and a dowel rod (from the dandiya set).
First of all, we lined these up on the carpet and cut the same length of masking tape.
Next came the measuring to see how many seeds long each of these four objects were. We put the objects next to the tape to make sure they were the same length.
Finally, we counted the seeds to discuss the lengths.
Measuring was only one-half of the activity. We still had to establish a relationship between the length of these objects and the number of seeds needed to measure their length. This is where I reinforced a lot of the math vocabulary.
We compared how many seeds long the objects were, and identified which object was the longest and which was the shortest. The longest object was the snake and we saw it needed the most number of seeds. The shortest object was the book as it needed the least number of seeds.
What do you do when the two-year-old wants to start measuring from the middle? You let him do it of course!
L is too young to understand all these concepts. At the same time, this was a great fine motor activity for him. He had fun running his fingers through the seeds, picking them up one by one with a pincer grasp, and lining them against the tape.