Estimation (or the close enough answer) is a hard concept to teach to children because they don’t see any value in it. Why estimate when you can count and get the correct answer? they ask.
My attempts to come up with a convincing case scenario failed miserably.
You need to understand estimation because….
… what if you are in the store and you want to quickly eyeball the items in your cart to see if you have enough money to buy them?
I’ll just use a credit card, mom!
… what if I want to buy pies for a Thanksgiving dinner and want to estimate how many slices I can cut from each pie to help me decide how many pies to buy?
You would never do that! (I do bake our own pies, so fair enough).
… what if you are having dinner with friends and want to roughly split a check without going into precise calculations?
Bill splitting app, m’am! (That’s from my husband. Thanks a lot.)
And yet I know that a grasp on estimation helps us think things out, make good risk calculations, and be more independent from all the apps and calculators. So I was pretty happy when I came up with a sneaky way for my children to practice their estimation skills.
Fall, here in Chicago, means lots of opportunities for acorn gathering expeditions.
We love collecting acorns and tend to amass great quantities of them.
One day, as we were playing in our yard, I asked my daughter to pass me a handful of acorns. But then all my kids started debating how much is a handful. Then they moved on to the difference between “fistful” and “handful.”
It was a heated discussion!
So I suggested that they each grab a handful of acorns, tell me how many they think they have in hand, and then we count how many they actually have and compare all our numbers.
Everybody enthusiastically embraced this activity. (They each thought that their hands could hold the most acorns 🙂 Then, we repeated with fistfuls. Read along for instructions.
Estimating a “Handful” of Acorns
What you need
- Paper and pen (or our printable)
What to do
1. Go outside and gather some acorns.
You might want to grab a track to carry your load home 🙂
2. Direct each kid to pick a handful of acorns.
A handful means as many as they can hold in one hand without dropping.
And invite them to guess how many they are holding. If they have difficulty, remind them to think about an acorn’s size. Is it more like 5 or more like 100 acorns that can fit in their hand?
3. Write down their estimations.
4. Now count the acorns.
If you are not using our printable, make sure that you write both numbers next to each other so that they can clearly see the difference between the amount they estimated and the actual amount.
5. Do it a few times.
Our worksheet is perfect for keeping track of their progress. Do they always pick the same amount? Do the estimates sometimes equal the actual amounts?
Estimating a “Fistful” of Acorns
When we looked up dictionary definitions of “handful” and “fistful,” we learned that a fistful is as much as a person can hold in their closed hand, while a handful is as much as one hand can hold while fingers are open wide with the palm facing up.
For example, when my five-year-old grabs a handful of acorns, she can hold 11. And her fistful is between 3 and 4. My handful is 18, while my fistful is 11.
So now do the next round of estimatIon and count fistfuls of acorns. (The second part of our worksheet). Those numbers are going to be much smaller. (Unless you have very small kids who resist the idea and try to grab as many as they can hold, which is, of course, a handful ;).
Were your kids able to get more accurate with their estimates the more they did this activity?
One of the most interesting things estimation practice can teach us is just how much our perception differs from reality and what we tend to expect. It’s a great opportunity, not only for math but for investigating how our own mind works.
We had a lot of fun with this activity, and I hope you will too.
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