Large measurements are hard for children to really conceive. To give the boys a real feel for the size of elephants and give them some hands-on math experiences, we worked on measuring activities with elephants. I supplied the boys with a sketch of a newborn elephant's (actual size) footprint. You can make one yourself by making a circle that is 18 inches in circumference for the baby, and about 48 inches for the adult mother.
You can use poker chips to fill in the footprint. It would cut out a step if we had used 1-inch circular counters, but the larger chips are easier for smaller hands (such as Quentin's) to work with. The chips are (roughly) twice the size of the 1-inch counters, so we had to double the amount of chips we used to get an accurate measurement of area. The footprint held 12 chips, so doubling that, we determined that the area of an infant elephant's foot is 24 inches.
Did you know that you can also use the footprint to determine the elephant's height! You take the circumference of the footprint and multiply this by 2 and that is the approximate height of the elephant at the shoulder. We used string and wrapped it around the footprint twice and used this to see how high the elephant would be. The baby would be just about as high as Quentin (about 3 feet)!
I then gave them the information that the area of a mother elephant's footprint is about 86 inches. They divided that number in half and put out 43 counters so that they could sketch out the size of the mother's footprint. Then, using the sketch, they wrapped a string around the circumference of the footprint twice and then had a string that is as tall as a mother elephant is at the shoulder -about as high as our door frame!
The boys became very interested in measuring the area of all sorts of things, to compare with the elephant. Quentin had the idea of measuring his own footprint, so we traced his foot and he filled it with the chips. He was surprised to find that it used only 9 chips!