Inch by Inch

Don’t eat me. I am an inchworm.

I am useful. I measure things.

from Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
image by Michelle Grewe from Pixabay

On a Wednesday at the Farm, our youngest friends were captivated by an unexpected guest that joined us for morning gathering. “An inchworm!” I blurted out. Oh, how I wish I would have waited to name it, but I was as intrigued by its presence as they were. “Why is it called an inchworm?” a friend asked. “Maybe because is it an inch long,” offered another.

They observed its motion. “It picks itself up! And then it stretches.” Friends noted that this was different than the movement of other caterpillars, millipedes, and worms that we have found. “It has feet in the front and in the back.” “Yeah, but none in the middle!”

They took turns allowing the small creature to walk across their hands. “I can’t even feel it!” “I thought it might tickle.” “I wonder if it doesn’t like my bug spray. I have lots of bug spray on.” Even a friend who is typically hesitant to have insects crawl on her was excited to allow it to inch along her palm. I was amazed at their gentleness.

After they had observed and everyone who wanted had held the inchworm, friends discussed where they should put it, “So it will be safe and happy.” “Over here, so we won’t step on it by accident.” “And there’s lots of grass for it to hide!” Together they placed it just outside of the area where we were playing.

Inspired by our guest, the next day we read Inch by Inch written and illustrated by Leo Lionni. This is a simple story about an inchworm who can measure anything from a robin’s tail to a toucan’s beak. We read through the book and friends made many observations. “The bird wants to eat the inchworm!” “He must be hungry.”

As the inchworm in the story measured different parts of different birds, we made comparisons based on the information given in the illustrations.  I asked, “Which is longer- a robin’s tail or a flamingo’s neck? “A flamingo’s neck!” “Which is longer- a toucan’s beak or a heron’s leg?” “A heron’s leg!” When we weren’t sure, we took time to examine the illustrations closely to help us make our best guess. When we got to the climax of the story, friends were not fooled when the nightingale asked the inchworm to measure her song. “How can you measure a song?” one asked. “Not that way,” answered her friend. They were happy to watch the inchworm inch his way out of sight and out of danger!

Once again we were inspired by our inchworm guest and the book we just read! We looked at a 12” ruler, and I asked friends what they noticed. “Numbers!” “Lines!” “Lots of lines.” Some friends already knew this tool and called it a measuring stick. Pointing to each line, we counted to twelve. Next, we measured a leaf, counting how long it was.

After giving each friend a ruler, they were invited to collect treasures from the woods to measure. What treasures they returned with! Sticks, leaves, grasses, and walnuts!

Some friends already recognize numbers; so once they understood where to place the item on the ruler, they quickly measured it. Others choose to count the numbers to find the length of their items. “One, two, three. Three long!”

“Denise, this one isn’t quite to nine.” I asked if it is closer to eight or to nine? “Nine.” “So you can say it is almost nine inches long, or approximately nine inches long.” “Okay, it’s almost nine inches.”

I heard comparisons. “This leaf is longer than this leaf. This one was four and this one is three.” There were estimations – or the beginnings of estimations. “I think this stick is four. I’m four, so maybe my stick is four.” Some friends brought items longer than twelve inches. Placing two rulers end to end, we measured and counted the numbers one to twenty-four.

For those that wanted more, I asked them how old they were and challenged them to find something that was that many inches long. “But I’m four and a half. How do I do that?” I asked, “How old were you on your last birthday?” “Four” “And how old will you be on your next birthday?” “Five,” he answered. “Hmmm. So you are between four and five. Let’s look on the ruler. Can we find a line that is between four and five?” “Here is a line,” he said pointing to the 4 ½” mark. “Yes! That line is halfway between four and five. Can you find something that long?” For this part of the activity friends quickly realized that they could break or tear the item to just the right length!

This wonderful learning experience was inspired by the interest friends had in an inchworm that unexpectedly joined our gathering. This was not in my lesson plan for the week. Loris Malaguzzi, one of the founders of the early childhood philosophy known as the Reggio Emilia Approach, speaks about Growing Comfortable with the Unknown. He says that although school is not at all like billiards, many educational systems function as if it is. Billiards is predictable, a matter of force and direction. Children, however, are not always predictable. Therefore, “school can never always be predictable. We need to be open to what takes place and able to change our plans and go with what might grow out at that very moment both inside the child and inside ourselves…we need to be comfortable with the restless nature of life.” This is joyful learning.

Thank you, little inchworm.

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