Nonstandard units of measurement in children’s books.

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How far is a stone's throw? Can you walk as long as a bear roams? Carry Me, Mama, by Monica Devine, is a great way to explore distances with your children.How do you measure distance or time? I’ve just found two delightful children’s books that include measurements of time and distance. Carry Me, Mama tells the story of an Inuit girl walking progressively longer distances. She walks as far as one can throw a stone, then as far as the rabbits run, as far as the bear wanders, etc.

After reading the book we talked about distances. We don’t know much about the distances that different animals travel but we talked about how far we’ve seen cats roam. Then I suggested a different location – what if we were at grandma’s house, where could we walk to from there if we were to walk only as far as a cat roams? We also guessed at how far a bear might roam using our house and locations near here to discuss the distance, and then again asking, if we were at grandma’s house, how far could we walk from there if we were to walk as far as a bear might roam?

The book mentions the passing of time too, thought not as obviously. One action happens “as quick as an owl blinks.” Other things happen when the leaves change color, when the river breaks up or many moons later. I found it interesting to note and discuss how some of the markers of time are relative (many moons later) and others describe a particular yearly event. Again we could bring the discussion to our own lives talking about what things happen regularly – the holidays, but also when the apples are ripe or the snow melts.

The second book is A Second is a Hiccup: A Children’s Book of Time by Hazel Hutchins and Kady MacDonald Denton. It talks about increasingly larger measurements of time, from a second to a childhood. For my older son I assign a task of drawing out a chart showing how seconds relate to minutes and then to hours etc. For my younger we talk about other things we could do in a minute. Could we clean up a mess? (What type of mess takes an hour rather than a minute?) The book describes a minute as:

 a happy, hoppy little song
Chorus, verses, not too long
What song is closest to a minute? Could we time things that way? Do we always sing the song at the same tempo? What are some other things that happen at almost the same speed each time? Could we measure time with candles burning? When does exact timing matter and when does it not?


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8 thoughts on “Nonstandard units of measurement in children’s books.

  1. What a great find! We are doing Math Week at I’m going to share this with my readers. I see a measurement activity in our future! Thanks for sharing.

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