Whether they're using apples or Unifix cubes, children love to measure and weigh.
Probably the most tool-rich environment of your classroom, the math center can be a hub of activity and fun. Hands-on experiences using math in real-life situations abound as children explore the use of measuring devices to solve problems and create their own understanding of the world.

Your math center should be a place for experimenting with real objects, and you should have these objects in multiples. Children should be able to use these to practice basic math skills such as measuring, counting, patterning, and sorting. Locate your math center near the manipulatives or the block area. You might use a large table, but avoid keeping bins on it. Instead, store bins to the side so that children have plenty of space to work. You could also use a big carpet for your math center.

Here are some great ways for using tools to create classroom math magic.


Collect a variety of measuring sticks, tapes, rulers, trundle wheels, and other devices for linear measuring.

Encourage children to estimate the size and length of different objects and to measure and record their findings. This process works best if children are involved in a real-life role play that gives them a reason to be measuring. Perhaps the math center could become a shipping office where items are packed in appropriate-size boxes.

Provide unusual objects for children to use as nonstandard measurement devices. Pose problems such as:

  • How many apples long is the table? The room? Are you?
  • What else could you use to measure these things? If, for example, you use pencils instead of apples, will you need more or fewer pencils to measure the table?


Tools for weighing are also common to children's experience. In the classroom, children can use a pan balance scale to weigh many different kinds of items.

During a trip to a local grocery store to observe tools at work, one class became fascinated with the store's balance scale for weighing fruits and vegetables. They turned the math center into a produce

weigh station and experimented with estimating and comparing the weights of objects on the pan balance scale.

As the project progressed, the children's interest became focused on creating a class grocery store with all the tools they had observed, including what the children decided was also an important tool-money!

Props for Play

Almost anything that you have multiples of can be a math tool for measuring, counting, patterning, and sorting.

Try these:

  • rulers, T squares, tape measures
  • yarn, beads, buttons, shells, rocks
  • pattern blocks, attribute blocks, Dr. Drew Blocks, Legos

Around Your Room

Periodically, you can introduce new tools and investigations in various centers of the classroom to expand children's experiences.

  • Woodworking: Introduce sandpaper, a woodworking tool. Ask: How is it used? How many different ways can you use it? What will happen when sandpaper is used on different materials? Invite children to predict how sandpaper will affect the materials, record their predictions, and test them out!
  • Art:  Provide plenty of paper and art tools and watch what children discover in their explorations. Ask: What art mates als are tools? How many different ways can you use them? Invite an artist to class or visit the school art teacher. Create a display of the children's investigative work.
  • Blocks: Introduce a pulley in the block area as a means for moving heavy blocks and objects. Ask: How can we move this block over to the window without the pulley? How can we move it with the pulley? What's the difference? '