Size Comparisons

Size comparison is a multi-disciplinary skill that draws on language and cognition, as well as an early math skill. At about 2.5 years old, Belle should be learning the concepts and words for big vs little. She’s categorizing objects (these are measuring cups, those are measuring spoons), comparing the sizes, and learning to understand and pronounce the words.

(Interestingly, even though /l/ is hard to say, little actually sounds more or less like /little/. If we tried to have her say small, it would come out closer to /daw/ because she simplifies the consonant cluster. So big vs little it is!)

In the kitchen, there are a bunch of things I can use to point out the sizes. We start with two items: the big bowl and the little bowl. “Crack an egg into the little bowl, then wait for Mama to pick out any shells. Now pour it into the big bowl.”

Belle uses measuring cups as scoops for flour and sugar – I can lay out a big and little scoop and ask her to pick the little scoop. Once she has that down consistently, I can add a third scoop (the medium scoop) and introduce that concept.

Belle hasn’t quite figured out the superlative –est ending, but I use it with the measuring spoons. “We need a quarter teaspoon. Which is the littlest spoon?” She’ll grab something that isn’t the tablespoon – good, because it is littler. “See how that spoon is still bigger than this spoon?” I can ask, showing the 1/2 teaspoon. “Which one is the littlest, the one that doesn’t have any spoons smaller than it?” She won’t start expressing it for another year or so but will start understanding it sooner.

I can also expose her to the superlative -est or the little/medium/big concept less explicitly. Our flour and sugar are in gallon size glass jars, while whole wheat flour is in a three-quart glass jar and brown sugar is in a two-quart metal canister. We keep chocolate chips and such in quart-size mason jars. So when we’re looking for the next ingredient, I can ask Belle, “where’s the brown sugar?” She usually points, but is used to me eliciting speech with “The big jar or the little jar?” and pointing myself to the two sugar jars.

Or maybe it’s flour we’re looking for – “the big jar or the medium jar?” Or chocolate chips – “are they in the littlest jar?” – phrased in a way to take advantage of her tendency to echo the last word or two of what she hears.

Even our spatulas are useful – “do we need the big spatula or the little spatula to scrape the peanut butter out of the scoop?” I try to give her an opportunity to fail, so if the big spatula won’t fit in the quarter-cup measure but that’s the one she chose, I hand her the big spatula anyway. When Belle fails because it’s too wide, she adds that to the mental list of dimensions she has to check next time.

Check around your kitchen – what do you have in multiple sizes that can be used for size comparisons?

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