Standard and Non-standard Units

What are standard units and non-standard units of measurement?

We usually use standard units to measure weight, length, and volume. For example, standard units introduced in primary school are grams, kilograms, meters, kilometers, milliliters, and liters.

Children use nonstandard units in EYFS and Year 1 to introduce without using scales of any kind, as this can make it seem more complicated.

Although standard measurements are an essential part of the 2014 National Curriculum for Maths, non-standard measurements are often used with EYFS and Year one students to help them grasp the concept of measurements.

How are Non-Standard Units used in the classroom?

Children are first introduced to the measurement concept during the EYFS stage of their learning. However, children at this stage don’t read any scales – instead, they usually begin to measure everyday items on how they feel (light or heavy). So, for example, you could ask children to compare items by asking them: do you think the pencil or sharpener is more serious? It is a great way to get them thinking about measurement and how we determine the difference between items.

Once children reach KS1, students are prompted to measure using centimeters or kilograms; it is common for teachers to introduce them to the concept and skills of measuring using non-standard units.

These are often practical, easy-to-visualize examples that can be demonstrated in the classroom. For instance, how many cups of sand are needed to fill a bucket?

It will allow students to develop their counting skills and learn the language around measurements, such as “x units got into y unit.” In addition, it creates a strong foundation of knowledge which will help them as they begin to learn standard units of measurement.

Using standard units of measurement

Children begin to use standard units in Year 2. Next, they’ll learn and understand the equipment needed to measure different items. For example, they’d need to know whether to measure things using centimeters, kilograms, or meters.

Once children reach Year 3, they’ll work on everything they’ve learned in Year 2, but at more advanced levels. For example, year two children will begin to problem-solve using practical ways such as scales. They will also start to understand the different conversion measurements and should be able to recall the following:

  • 1 litre = 1000 millilitres.
  • 1 metre = 100 centimetres.
  • 1 kilogram = 1000 grams.

In year four, children will start to convert and should be able to determine different measurements. For example, children should know that 1.4 liters are the same as 1400 ml; this will help them problem-solve when they sometimes must find a measure and convert it to a standard unit.

In Year 5, children will solve problems using measurement further but will also use addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to achieve the answer.

Once children reach the last year of Primary education (Year 6), they will continue problem-solving using the four operations while converting between units using decimals.

Examples of Standard and Non-Standard Units

The following are all standard units of measurement. Though they may not be typical, they have still accepted units of measurement across the world.

  • Centimetres (1 cm = 0.39 Inches)
  • Feet (1 Foot = Approx. 30 cm)
  • Kilograms (1 Kilogram = 2.2. Pounds)
  • Cups (1 Cup = 10 Fluid Ounces)
  • Hands (1 Hand = 4 inches)

However, these measurement units are non-standard and not generally accepted or known by others. They are likely only used in a classroom situation or a casual context. They may give only a very approximate measurement – more like an estimate than a fixed measurement.

  • Heads (e.g., Megan is a head taller than her sister)
  • Sweets (e.g., 20 sweets in a bag)
  • Squares (e.g., 15 squares of chocolate in a bar)
  • Phone Book (e.g., This is heavier than a stack of Phone Books!)
  • Stone’s Throw (e.g., It’s not far – it’s only a stone’s throw away.)
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