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Authors: Jandy Jeppson with Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE

Suppose a child looks at you and says, “I want the ball.” You look down to grab the ball, but you see many balls of different sizes. You ask the child which ball she wants. She says, “I want the little ball.” When children know about size, it helps them communicate with others.

Children are exposed to ideas about size every day. They think a lot about themselves and the fact that they are small. They learn that some small things are for children, and some larger things are for adults. For example, children may sit at the small table in small chairs and drink from small cups. They may learn that they can fit in some places where adults cannot. When children go to the park, they can see that their caregivers and parents are too big for some toys. These are great times to talk with children about size.

Children learn about size as they play. Some toys are made to help children think about size. One example is cups that fit inside of each other (nesting toys). Other toys can help children learn about size, too. Children may try to put pieces from one toy into another. They will notice that sometimes some pieces fit and some don’t.

Size relationships

Children learn about their size compared to other people and things. As children grow, they get too big for their parents to carry them. They will also notice that they get too big for some playthings, like riding toys or dress-up clothes. Some children learn about size by building forts. They may have secret passages that they fit through — until they grow bigger. Other children “accidentally” put their head through a railing and get it stuck.

Adults can talk with children about how size is important to them. For example, size is important when parents try to fit a couch through a door. It is also important when driving a car into a garage. Even arranging things in the refrigerator gives adults a chance to talk about size.

When children first learn about size, they think things are either big or little. So they think all elephants are big, even though baby elephants are littler than grown-up elephants. They may think all bugs are little, even though the beetle they are looking at is very large for a bug. With time, children learn to understand size in more advanced ways. They learn that size is relative. This means that when a child is talking about the size of an apple, should compare it to something else. An apple is little compared to a beach ball, but big compared to an ant. And some apples are bigger or smaller than other apples.

Talking with children about size

As a childcare provider, you probably talk with children in your care about size. Children usually think of size in opposites: big-little, large-small, tall-short, long-short, wide-narrow, thick-thin, and deep-shallow. When children say something about size, you can talk with them about it more. You can encourage parents to do this, too.

For example, if a boy says that a toy truck is long, you can say more about the truck being long. You could say, “Look how long it is next to this truck.” You could ask him which part of the truck is long, why it’s good to have a long truck, and what he can do with it. Or, you might ask if it’s long enough to carry certain toys that are nearby. You could also ask him if he has ever been in a long truck.

Ideas for activities

     • Have children sort objects by size. When setting the table, have children talk about the size of cups, plates, etc. Do
       children get smaller dishes? Are the larger dishes for serving?
     • Children love to play with empty boxes. Talk about what will fit in the boxes. Put things in and dump them out. When
       you have a big box, like an old refrigerator box, talk about which people will fit inside of it. How many people will fit?
     • Help children understand that things look smaller when they are far away. While traveling or taking a walk, point out
       distant objects and talk about their size as you get closer.
     • Compare things. Talk about items that are the same for their size. For example, two chairs, bananas, or balls might be
       the same shape and color, but a different size.


1. The Discovery Channel is full of information and activities. Put “size” into one of many search engines and discover more.

2. Jig Zone offers puzzles online. You can make your photos into puzzles or subscribe to put together their puzzles online.

3. Dinosaurs and the Expanding Earth is a Web site about dinosaurs that gives information about their sizes.

  Learning about size

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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