Rulers, Yardsticks, and Measuring Tape, Oh My!

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

Rulers, Yardsticks, and Measuring Tape, Oh My!

November 12, 2013

Years ago people used their bodies, rather than rulers and yardsticks, to measure length and distance. And while using the body does sound practical, you don’t have to hunt for your head or your foot like you do a misplaced ruler, it can get pretty difficult. Add this to the fact that your foot is unlikely to be the same length as your neighbor’s, and you’ll see why the body isn’t so great for accurate measurements and comparisons. Here are some interesting facts about the history of measurement and a few fun activities to try:

A Thumb’s Width

An inch wasn’t always 1/12 of a foot. Many, many years ago, an inch was defined as the width of a person’s thumb. Try this out! Ask your child to measure the length of several items, such as a book, a box, a pencil, a crayon, a calculator, and your smart phone, using thumb width as a measure. Get the whole family in on the fun and write down each measurement along with the measure’s name. Then measure each item with a ruler and compare the differences in length. Oh, what a difference a standard can make!

How Many Feet?

The Ancient Greeks used the foot as a measure of length. Interestingly, that foot was smaller than the 12-inch foot we measure with today. Try it out! Have your child measure how many feet long your living room, bathroom, kitchen, or foyer is using his own feet instead of a measuring tape or yardstick. Write how many feet long the room is, and then have the next family member step up to take measurements of his or her own. Recording the length according to mom, dad, brother, sister and the family pet should make for some laughs and illustrate why standard measurements are so important.

For a variation of this activity, and some interesting comparisons, trace your child’s foot on a piece of construction paper and then cut it out. Repeat this for each member of your household. Then, go measuring crazy with that cut-out foot, checking how many kid’s, mom’s, and sibling’s feet long the kitchen table, coffee table, fridge, and microwave are.

Heads or Feet?

We use feet and inches when measuring height today, but if you don’t have a tape measure handy, go ahead and use your head. Ask your child to cut off a length of string the same height as her head. Then, use the string to figure out how many heads tall she is. If she’s 5 lengths of string tall, that means she’s 5 heads tall. Have mom, dad, and the siblings try it too. If you want to get really silly, switch strings and see how the measurement changes along with the length of the head.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author

Kim Moldofsky

Kim Moldofsky is a mom of teen boys in the Chicago area. She blogs at and hosts a the popular monthly #STEMchat on Twitter where parents and educators share ideas and resources to raise STEM-loving kids.

More posts from this author - Website