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If you’re hitting the road with your family for the holidays or winter break, it’s time to check out some surprising road-sign math!
on February 01, 2013

When you’re traveling with your family over the holidays, winter break, or any other time of year, you know you’ll hear the endless “Are we there yet?”s coming from the back of the car.” Thankfully, all that travel time is a great chance for kids to learn some math - in this case, size and scale. When you look at the numbers, even the most ordinary objects can surprise us.

When we walk or drive down the street, all kinds of road signs tell us where we are and what to do, like stop or slow down. Most signs are easy to read, and that's because those letters on them are HUGE. Because the signs are far away and high above our heads, the letters and numbers are a lot bigger than you realize. Your cute little stop sign at the corner is actually a 2 1/2-foot tall octagon, almost half the height of a grown-up, and the letters are twice as tall as your hand. On a big green highway sign, the blue and red interstate number is even bigger than a stop sign, and the whole sign can be 10 or 12 feet tall! If you ever stand next to a sign that's down on the ground, you'll find that some letters and numbers are just as tall as you.

Wee ones (counting on fingers): A stop sign is shaped like an octagon: a top and bottom, a left side and right side, and 4 lopped-off corners. How many sides is that?

Little kids: Your standard red stop sign is a whole 30 inches tall. If the letters are about 1/3 that height, how tall are the letters? Bonus: In the photo, that red, white and blue shield showing the highway number is 3 feet tall. If the sign is 4 times as tall as that, how tall is the whole sign?

Big kids: If those interstate highway numbers are 3 feet tall, how many inches is that? (Remember: 1 foot has 12 inches). Bonus: If you stood next to it, how would that stack up against you?

Wee ones: 8 sides.

Little kids: 10 inches. Bonus: 12 feet tall!

Big kids: 36 inches. Bonus: Different for everyone...subtract 36 from your height in inches, or subtract your height from 36.