Using a pan balance to weigh everyday items involves the child in predicting, sorting and measuring.

Teaching Children How to Weigh Things

by Susan Rickey

For preschoolers, weighing isn't so much about coming up with a precise calculation as it is comparing and sorting items into heavier or lighter categories. These skills will become the basis for geometry and algebra as she tackles higher math. In these earlier years, kids need opportunities to connect real-life experiences with math, and weighing items provides that. In a few years, her third grade teacher will love you for laying this groundwork.

Weighing on a Balance Scale

Weighing items on a pan balance scale gives a preschooler the opportunity to compare and sort items by their weights: "Look, Mom, the jelly beans are heavier than the peanuts!" Prompting your child to make these comparisons places him on a learning path in mathematics.

Using the pan balance just takes a few adjustments. The balance has a needle or sliders that adjust to make the balance even when there is nothing placed on the pans. Ask, "Do you think the apple or the orange is heavier?" After he makes a prediction, let him place the items on the scale. The heavier item's pan sinks down further. The lighter item rises. The immediate answer to the question delights him, and he's ready to go find two more items.

Weighing Ourselves

The most obvious item to weigh for your child is herself. Show her how to turn on your scale and stay still until the reading shows her weight. Comparing today's weight to her weight six months earlier shows her she is growing. If she has gained two pounds since the last weigh-in, grab something from the pantry or refrigerator to show her how much more she weighs now. Daddy might say, "Look, you gained a block of cheese!" To your daughter, this comparison is fun and educational. If anyone says anything similar to Mommy, he better run for his life.

Building Measurement Sense

At the grocery store, make a game out of weighing your produce. Say, "Let's get 3 pounds of apples," and then add one apple at a time to the produce scale, counting out loud with each apple you add. "When the pointer stops at the 3, we will have 3 pounds of yummy apples." Show him where the 3 is on the scale. Keep your finger on the 3 as you add apples.

This or That Measurement Game

"Is this heavier or is that heavier?" Show your child two different items and ask, "Let's see which is heavier, the peach or your car. The peach feels heavier to me." Let her hold each item to see if she can tell which one is heavier. Have a digital tabletop scale on the counter. Place one item on the scale. Show her how the numbers show up on the scale. Place the other item on the scale and observe the numbers on the scale. Talk about which one is heavier. Measure all of the peaches and line them up from heaviest to lightest. You just made your child's eighth-grade algebra teacher very happy.

About the Author

Susan Rickey started writing in 1994 with a technology feature article for the "Pioneer Press." She was the writer of the Klamath Forest Alliance newsletter, an environmental organization. Rickey obtained her teaching credential from California State University and acquired her Bachelor of Science from the University of Arkansas.

Photo Credits

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