Measuring Length with Everyday Objects

by Laurie Laurendeau on March 29, 2011

If you’ve ever estimated the length of a room by using your own two feet, then you understand the concept of measuring length with everyday objects. Your children will enjoy these kindergarten and first grade math skills as they are introduced to the concept of measuring.

What is it?

Measuring length with everyday objects is sometimes called measuring using non-standard units.  This type of measurement is the first step in measuring the length of objects.  Instead of using a ruler, children typically use objects in their everyday lives such as paper clips or blocks.  This develops the concept of measuring the length of an object, without worrying about using a ruler or learning about various units of measure.


  • Select a tool. Some ideas for measuring tools that your child could use to measure objects around your house are: paper clips, blocks, pencils, pennies, hand spans, straws, and clothespins. Children typically love these types of math games or activities. They have fun without necessarily realizing they are being taught a new concept.
  • Have fun! The neat thing about paper clips is that your child can attach them all together to make a measuring tool that he can use over and over again!
  • Discuss what you’re doing. Talk about the word “length” with your child, explaining that it means how long something is.  Tell him he’s going to have a chance to find out how long some things are around the house – his choice!
  • Find an appropriate object to measure. Encourage him to choose objects to measure that are horizontal or flat, not vertical such as the height of a door.
  • Get your tools. Gather some measuring tools and let your child explore, placing the measuring tools down alongside an object, such as a book.
  • Let him guess. Once your child has had some experience with measuring using various household tools, ask him to guess how many. For example, ask him how many paper clips he thinks it will take to measure the length of his shoe.  Then have him actually measure it with the chosen tool, and talk about the difference between his guess (“estimate”) and the real measure.  You can decide if you’d like to introduce the word “estimate” at this time.
  • Chart your results. You might make a chart so that your child can record his measurements and estimates.  You can use the following headings or make up your own:


What to Watch For:

  • Be sure that your child places the first measuring tool (like a paper clip) at the edge of the object being measured (such as a book).
  • Be sure there aren’t any spaces between the measuring tools
  • Watch that your child chooses appropriate measuring tools depending on what he is measuring.  For instance, if he is measuring the length of a pencil, an appropriate measuring tool might be paper clips.  Something like straws, on the other hand, would be too long and would make it difficult to measure properly.
  • Remind your child that it is important that he chooses all the same measuring tools to measure an object (not a combination of tools).


  • As always, playing math games at home is a great way to reinforce math skills learned in school.
  • Have questions or ideas about this story?
  • Need help or advice about your child’s learning?
  • Have ideas for future Parent Homework Help stories?

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