One Foot Wonders – Bay Area Discovery Museum

One Foot Wonders

Children work together to explore standard and nonstandard measurement as they hunt for objects that are one-foot long. Later, they’ll work together to create a collaborative story about the items they find.

Materials Required

  • 12” ruler
  • String or yarn cut to 12”, one per child
  • Video recording device (optional)


  1. Show children the ruler and explain to them that the “foot” is commonly used to measure length in the U.S. Give a few examples of objects that are about one-foot-long (e.g. a book, a computer, a piece of paper).
  2. Give each child one piece of string.
  3. Challenge children to work in small groups, moving around the room to search for objects that are about one-foot long. Encourage them to use their string to measure an item’s circumference or length.
  4. After children have finished gathering objects, discuss them as a group. Work together to sort objects as being shorter, longer, or exactly one foot.
  5. Support children to tell a story that incorporates the objects they find. If possible, take a video as they work together to act out their collaborative story.

Additional Tips

Try these add-on activities:

  • Provide pencils, paper, and clipboards so children can write down or draw the objects they find.
  • Have children use their own foot as a nonstandard unit of measurement and go on an additional hunt for objects that match that length.
  • Encourage children to consider objects that are not just straight (e.g. is your waist about one foot around?) Introduce vocabulary like circumference and diameter.
  • Let children make circumference predictions: how long does the yarn need to be in order to wrap around a cup, or how much ribbon will it take to wrap a present? Cut the amount the children guessed, then try it out to see if they were right!
  • Challenge children to find 5 objects that are exactly one-foot-long, 5 objects that are shorter, and 5 objects that are longer, using their string as their measure.
  • Ask older children to make predictions about the distance in feet from one point (e.g. the door) to another point (e.g. the chalkboard).

Links to Creativity

One seemingly simple behavior that many of our activities promote is creativity when resources are limited (Stokes, 2005). Limitations have a way of forcing—or maybe it is more like freeing— us to see the unique traits and functions of ordinary objects (McCaffrey, 2012). Searching for objects based on a single criterion, such as length, enables children to perceive those objects differently. As children become attuned to the length of things, their perceptions rely less and less on objects’ more traditional uses, which considerably improves flexibility when solving problems (Duncker, 1945; German & Defeyter, 2000; McCaffrey, 2012).

Supporting research includes:

Duncker, K. (1945). On problem-solving (L. S. Lees, Trans.). Psychological Monographs, 58(5, Whole No. 270).

German, T. P., & Defeyter, M. A. (2000). Immunity to functional fixedness in young children. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 7(4), 707-712.

McCaffrey, T. (2012). Innovation relies on the obscure: A key to overcoming the classic problem of functional fixedness. Psychological Science, 23(3), 215-218.

Stokes, P. D. (2005). Creativity from constraints: The psychology of breakthrough. New York: Springer Publishing Company.


This activity was contributed by the Bay Area Discovery Museum. ©2017 Bay Area Discovery Museum. For more information and resources see

One Foot Wonders

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