Young children love to play with water. This can happen indoors or outdoors, at the sink, in a bathtub, or wading pool. It can become a math and science experience as they learn about volume while filling different size containers with water. At the same time, they are developing eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
This kind of play also integrates cognitive skills such as investigation, observation, problem solving, and concept development.
For very young children, begin with three or four different plastic containers, none larger than a quart. Allow them to fill the larger container with water using the various containers. They will intuitively keep on filling the larger container until it is full. By playing with different sizes of cups, spoons, scoops and containers, toddlers begin to develop a sense of volume.
Volume and Older Children
For older children, provide the same variety of plastic containers, making sure that there is a standard one-cup measure. Model for the children how to measure the number of cups of water a container can hold by filling the cup with water and pouring it into the empty container.
Count aloud as you pour each cup. Explain that you are measuring the volume of the empty container. Define volume as the space something takes up. Discuss that the volume of the container was a certain number of cups. Repeat this with the other containers. Compare the number of cups that are needed. For example, the larger container had a volume of four cups and the smaller container had a volume of two cups. Estimate how many cups are needed before starting. Vary the activity by using sand, rice or beans.
Move measuring into the real world by cooking with your children. Talk about how many cups or teaspoons of each ingredient are used in your recipe. Count how many cups of dry pasta or popcorn are needed to fill a bowl. How many containers of water are needed to reconstitute frozen orange juice?
What Else Can We Do?
Visit the library to look for books about measurement and volume. In the story "Drip, Drop" by Sarah Weeks, a mouse catches water from his leaking roof in different kitchen containers such as a pan or cup.
Your children can help fill bags at the grocery store. Collect a variety of different size boxes. See if the children can fit the boxes inside of each other. Talk about which box is the best to start and the reason why. Fill a shoebox with blocks, one layer at a time. Count how many blocks are needed to fill the box.
For more, see grandparentsteachtoo.org in English and Spanish and wnmufm.org "Learning Through the Seasons."