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Introduction to a Ruler

Sweet Pea is 46 months old.

From: This activity was in John Bowman’s book Montessori at Home.


  • Ruler.
  • Table knife.
  • 1 can of Play-Doh (You can also make your own, but a Play-Doh is very cheap so I don’t think it is worth the trouble.)


  • Start by explaining to your tot that a knife is a tool and needs to be respected.   Explain any house rules you may have involving knives.
  • Tell your tot that you want them to roll out a piece of Play-Doh that is 1-foot long.  Show them that the ruler is exactly 1-foot long.
  • Allow your tot to create the Play-Doh snake, helping if necessary.

  • Periodically invite your tot compare her snake to the ruler to see if it is long enough yet.

  • When the snake the correct length, demonstrate lining up the end of it with the left side edge of the ruler.
  • Carefully pick up the knife and say, “I’m going to cut 1-inch pieces.”
  • Slowly move your knife to the 1-inch mark and press down to cut the Play-Doh.
  • Set the 1-inch piece aside and slide the cut edge of the snake so it lines up with the left side of the ruler again.
  • Invite your tot to try.

Observations: Sweet Pea was totally engrossed in this activity and cut the entire snake into 1-inch pieces.  However, when I suggested we try 2-inch pieces, she refused.  She wanted to use a rolling pin to roll out the pieces she had just cut into “cookies” and I said that was fine.  I might try the 2-inch pieces next time.

Sweet Pea needed quite a bit of direction at first regarding where to cut, but quickly got the hang of it.  She had not cut with a knife or used a ruler before this activity and was quite enthusiastic about the experience.

I would highly recommend this activity for older tots that have good fine motor control.

Notes from the Trenches: During this activity, be especially aware that your tot is closely observing you.  Make sure that everything you do with the knife is deliberate.  If your tot watches you wave the knife around or pry the lid of the Play-Doh off with it, then he or she will likely try to do the same thing.

Sweet Pea had some trouble creating the Play-Doh snake because she wasn’t pressing down hard enough.   When I encouraged her to press harder, she did so with too much force and the snake got too thin in just one place.   It took a loooong time for her to make a snake that was the same length as the ruler.  If I had it to do over, I might just make up the snake myself before starting the activity.

Rating: 3 Stars * (Fun, Easy, Frugal)

Carnivals: This post is linked up at Homeschool Creation’s Preschool Corner.  Visit her site to see some other great ideas for your preschooler.

13 comments to Introduction to a Ruler

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