Biggest to Smallest: Comparing Things from Nature in any Season! Even in Color and Shape



Here in the desert area, we do not normally have Autumn weather like other parts of the country during the months of September through November, but some of the trees do change color and drop their leaves. At our house, we have a tall Sycamore tree with leaves of various sizes that really should not be in the desert, but has survived all this time through tons of watering and care. So, I took this opportunity for this Autumn Season to have the boys pick up some of the fallen leaves and pick their favorites.

At this time, my boys are 4 and 3 years old. Picking up leaves, for them, is really not too much to ask for from mommy. J As we brought them in, we talked about the colors they saw on each of the leaves, counted the number of points on each leaf, and I was wondering if they would be able to choose the biggest leaf to the smallest leaf. Looking at the picture above, there are only seven leaves, which is a good number of one thing to compare for a 4 and 3-year-old. Any more than ten might be a bit much, especially if it is the afternoon before nap time.

Placing one leaf on the floor, I asked them if this was the biggest leaf. It was not. I kept asking questions and listened to what they had to say. As this kept going back and forth, back and forth, it took about five to eight minutes to get what you see on the picture. Here are questions that I asked the boys that resulted in the above picture:

  1. Which one is the biggest leaf, this one, or that one? Why?
  2. Which one is the next biggest leaf?
  3. Which of the leaves is the smallest? How can you tell?
  4. What about this leaf? Is this bigger or smaller than the first leaf on the floor? (you can overlap the leaf, one on top of the other, to see which one is bigger or smaller).
  5. What if we did smallest to biggest, what would that look like?



For the rest of the world that has a real winter, here are some ideas that you might want to take advantage of when comparing things in nature from biggest to smallest. Although most of the fallen leaves are gone or underneath snow, it would be a great time to also talk about color and why some leaves are still green and on the tree, instead of gone or brown.

  1. Pinecones! If you have different conifers near you, take some fallen pine cones and compare them. Take a look at the way the pine cones are created. Do you see spirals? What shapes do you see?
  2. Snowballs! Before a snowball fight, make some that are small and big and compare them.       This is a great way to start exploring 3-D shapes! What solids/3-D shapes can you make with snow and how? What 3-D shapes are easier to make than others and why?
  3. Icicles! With this one, you need to be careful and very cautious because icicles can be really dangerous to be underneath. From a distance, you can compare the length of the icicles and also look at what shapes they are. This is a special treat because you can explore these from inside a warm house too!





Spring is my all time favorite season because it is a time where everything comes back to life and it is cool and warm enough to go outside and explore! Why not look at different things outside and compare them. Make it like a scavenger hunt to find different flowers, leaves, and rocks. Then bring them all together and compare. What colors do you see? What shapes do you see?

  1. Flowers
  2. Green leaves
  3. Vegetables in the garden
  4. Plants




This special season can be a way to get out of the heat and explore things in different parts of the country on a vacation, or even at the local zoo.   Compare things from biggest to smallest and you will find that your children will have an interesting way of thinking about what big is and small is and tall is. It also depends if something is standing upright or on the ground flat. If you can go to the zoo or look up pictures of animals, compare the size, colors, and shapes of the animals as well 🙂

  1. Sea Shells
  2. Flowers
  3. Zoo Animals

Where is this on the Schedule of Activities from 18 months to 3 years of age?


  1. Wednesday on Big and Small
  2. Mondays on Shapes

Where is this on the Schedule of Activities from 3 years to 5 years of age?


  1. Monday on Shapes
  2. Tuesday on Measurement (if you are using a device to compare measurements, like a ruler)
  3. Thursday on Geometry of 2D and 3D
  4. Tuesday ( that I will soon add on Tuesdays is comparisons)

  1. Thursday on Geometry of 2Dand 3D
  2. Tuesday ( that I will soon add on Tuesdays is comparing)


Something to Think About:

Mathematics is not always learned on paper or with technology, though these things are great in their own moments. The reason why most of us explore the world of mathematics is because nature provides this outside. Nature, in every season, is a playground of math waiting to be played and explored. So, take advantage of what is outside your door. Even if it is that single tree outside, rocks, or flowers. Go outside with your kids and start asking questions. Show your kids how to look at things around them and to take notice of the math that is there. Sure, I know we need to clean the house or we are busy trying to figure out how to manage everything, but just take a moment to go outside and breathe. These moments are not only a way of learning about the mathematics, but making memories with your kids. These are priceless moments with our kids.

As an idea, even if you cannot go outside, or have a local zoo in your area, just print out the pictures in this blog or read this with your kids and start comparing; start asking questions. At least this gives you time together and gives you time to slow down and breathe, making memories. 🙂

copyright 2014 learning math with mom

copyright 2014 learning math with mom


Jigsaw Puzzles Here, Jigsaw Puzzles There, Jigsaw Puzzles Everywhere!


About 18 months old, my son was interested in jigsaw puzzles.  It first began with two piece, three piece, and four piece jigsaw puzzles.  Now 3 years old, he has an enormous collection of jigsaw puzzles and is able to do a little over 60 pieces by himself.  With 100 piece puzzles, it takes a mommy-son team working together.

Before doing anything with putting the pieces together, I put the two piece, three piece, and four piece jigsaw puzzles together and took a picture of each of them.  Then I printed out each picture and placed it in a plastic cover sleeve.  The purpose was to help my son identify what the completed puzzle should look like…to see the ultimate goal.

First rule that I shared with him was to take all the puzzle pieces out of the box.  The second rule was to make sure that all the pieces were picture up.  I personally believe that even if you cannot see the way that the puzzle is put together, that your brain is ultimately working everything out behind the scenes.  Sounds odd, but that is how I worked out math problems in high school and in college; put everything out in front of you so that your brain can start processing and putting the pieces together.

Coming right back to my then 18 month old, I showed him the picture and asked him how the pieces might fit together.  We would talk about how gaps between two pieces will form if they really do not fit together.  We talked about the different shapes we saw on the edges of the puzzle pieces.  This was done more often as we worked on jigsaw puzzle with more pieces.  If he was thinking for a longer period of time, I asked him to look at the picture again to see where the puzzle piece would go.

Believe me, there was a lot of trial and error.  This is the time to tell your child that it is okay to feel frustrated.  Share with your child how you have felt frustrated and how you dealt with it without becoming too upset about it.  However, it is our job as the parent to stop and take a break if our child is reaching the level of being overly frustrated.

After doing this each week, my son was hooked on jigsaw puzzles.  To make things more cost effective, the dollar store was my place to look for puzzles.  As I looked for puzzles, I wanted to make sure that the puzzle pieces were not a choking hazard, of course, and also that the size of the pieces was not too small.  At our local used book store, there were floor puzzles that were perfect for little hands to hold on to.

Understanding how interested my son was in jigsaw puzzles, I used this as a way to teach him other things.  Between 18 months and 2 years old, to teach him about shapes, numbers, and the alphabet, he worked on jigsaw puzzles with shapes, one about numbers, and one about the alphabet.  He also did this for one about colors.  For about four dollars, he learned about four different topics.

When he was 2 years old, he liked cars and dinosaurs.  When it was time to read about dinosaurs, we read a book and then worked on a puzzle.   It was not until he was three years old that he started asking about the parts of the body and about bones.  Going back to our local used bookstore, we were able to find a jigsaw puzzle that had the skeletal system on one side and the nervous system on the other side.  The same happened for the different states on a map.  We were also able to find a puzzle from the store of the map of the United States.

How does this all fit in learning about mathematics?  Working with jigsaw puzzles helps the child with spatial relationships.  Spatial relationships are really, in a nutshell, how shapes work in a certain area.  Just as someone is able to look at room and figure out how to reorganize or reposition the furniture, this is the same as someone looking at a jigsaw puzzle and figuring out how all the pieces fit together.  Remember Tetris?  Aha!….spatial reasoning.

Working on a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to teach your child about problem solving and using critical thinking skills.  Think of it this way, if your older child accidentally breaks a vase, a plate, or flower pot, this would be the time to get out the glue and work out this real life puzzle together.

In time, this will be the way to work on tangrams and other puzzles to come.

Where does this fit into the Schedule of Activities 18 months-3 years old?


1) Mondays under Math

2) Tuesdays under Math

Schedule of Activities for 18 months to 3 years of age

Something to Think About:

After reading this, you may think that your 18 month old or even 3 year old could not possibly be ready to work on jigsaw puzzles.  My suggestion to you is to try it.  Our children are capable of doing a lot more than we give them credit.  Trust me, I know you give your child a lot of credit for doing things, but your child can do more.  If not now, then soon.  Remember, learning is not a race.  It’s not who gets there first, it’s that you actually get there.

copyright 2012 learning math with mom

copyright 2012 learning math with mom