Measuring Tools

Children will tinker with measuring tools and make modeling dough.

Lesson Objective

Children will tinker with mixing ingredients to make modeling dough and discover that using measuring tools for the ingredients can affect the outcome of the mixture.


What You'll Need

  • Sand and/or water table
  • Measuring cups and spoons for use in the sand table
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Boiling water (teacher only)
  • Oil
  • Cream of tartar
  • Large bowls – 2
  • Large spoons for mixing – 2

For each batch of modeling dough:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup boiling water (teacher only)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • A few drops of food coloring (if desired)

What To Do

Note: Steps 7–13 work best with small groups of 4 children.

  1. Several days in advance of this activity, place measuring tools in your sand and/or water table, and encourage the children to tinker with them and practice measuring the sand/water with them.
  2. Display each of the measuring tools.
  3. Discuss that measuring cups and spoons are used to exactly measure ingredients (see Guiding Student Inquiry).
  4. Ask children to name some things from the classroom that they could measure with the measuring cups (such as water, marbles, or sand).  Have them name some things that they could not measure with the measuring cups (such as books, chairs, or backpacks).
  5. Ask children to name some things from the classroom that they could measure with the measuring spoons (such as paint, water, or sand). Have them name some things that they could not measure with the measuring spoons (such as crayons, markers, or paper).
  6. Tell the children that they will be using the measuring tools to add ingredients needed to make modeling dough.
  7. You will be making 2 separate batches of modeling dough. In the first bowl, have the children use the measuring tools to randomly add and mix ingredients together. Discuss the mixture.
  8. In the second bowl, have the children help with measuring the exact amounts of flour, salt, and cream of tartar for the modeling dough; pouring them into the bowl; and stirring.
  9. Have the children make holes in the dry ingredients and help to add exact measurements of the oil and food coloring.
  10. Show the measured boiling water in the measuring cup to the children, and then add it to the other ingredients.
  11. Stir and mix until the dough begins to firm up (this may take a few minutes).
  12. Take the dough out of the bowl, and have the children help with kneading the dough.
  13. Compare the 2 mixtures, and discuss the importance of using measuring tools. Explain that exact measurements are necessary for the ingredients to react together to make the modeling dough.
  14. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts, and allow children to play with it.
  15. Repeat steps 7–13 for each small group.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Describe these tools.
  • Tell me what these tools are for.
  • Explain what happened to the dry ingredients when we added the liquids.
  • Describe the difference between the 2 mixtures.
  • Explain why you think it was important to use measuring tools.
  • Describe what happened when we kneaded the dough.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Place measuring tools, kitchen utensils, aprons, and bowls in the dramatic play or kitchen area. The children can tinker with them and pretend to cook.
  • Keep a separate set of measuring tools in the sand and/or water table so children can continue tinkering and practicing measuring.
  • Have the children make impressions of different textures by pressing small pieces of the dough against classroom objects. Have them describe the different textures.
  • Place the modeling dough in the discovery area for further investigation.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children describe the tools and tell that these tools are used to measure things?
  • Could children explain that the dry ingredients were no longer dry once the liquids were added?
  • Could children explain that using the tools was important to make sure that the correct amounts of ingredients were used?
  • Could children explain that one mixture made modeling dough and the other mixture did not?
  • Could children explain that the dough became less sticky as it was kneaded?


Did You Know?

Precise measuring is important when working with ingredients in order to achieve proper chemical reactions. With teacher guidance, measuring activities can help familiarize young children with basic math concepts, such as more than and less than, comparison, and estimation. Children can begin to understand spatial awareness and use problem-solving skills as they use measuring tools to fill larger containers. Using real-world tools in play-based experiences is a good bridge for introducing the use of measurement in meaningful, real-world experiences. 

Tinkering usually refers to an inquiry-based approach regarding building familiarity with materials. These experiences are varied, and a set learning outcome is not necessary. Making generally means using your hands to make something, so there is an end product in mind. Tinkering and making are ways of exploring things through playful learning. 

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • measure – to find out the exact amount of something.
  • mix – to put different things together so that the parts become one.
  • ingredient – one of the parts of a mixture.
  • knead – to mix by pressing, folding, and pulling.
  • react – to perform in a particular way because of something that happened.
  • modeling dough – a thick mixture used to make a small copy of something.

Lesson Tips

  • The recipe makes enough modeling dough for 4 children.
  • Keep the modeling dough in a tightly sealed container when not in use to keep it from drying out.
  • Food coloring can stain clothing and surfaces; take care when adding it to the modeling dough.


  • Me and the Measure of Things by Joan Sweeney
  • Walter the Baker by Eric Carle
  • Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells
  • Splat the Cat Takes the Cake by Hsu Lin
  • Bruno the Baker by Lars Klinting

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS