When was the last time you used an actual unit of distance when answering a question of the type “How far is …”? For example, Katie knows that her school is 5 minutes away, mom’s work is 10 minutes away, and her cousins live an hour away. This is what really matters to her, and so the concept of a mile never really comes up (as opposed to inches and feet, which are actually used for measuring things like height or length of a piece of paper). I never really gave this fact much thought until a few weeks ago we went on a bike ride with my sister’s family. My sister was keeping track of our progress, and at the end declared to the kids that our trip was 8.5 miles.
Yesterday, the bike ride came up in conversation, and Katie exclaimed, “I can’t believe that I biked for 8.5 miles!” This made me wonder, does she have any sense of how far 8.5 miles is? My guess was not, and it was an easy hypothesis to test. So I asked Katie to name something that she thought was about 8.5 miles from our house. It turned into a fun game that I believe actually did give her some feeling for various distances.
K: My cousins’ house.
Me: Not quite. That one is 50 miles away. Try again.
K: My school.
M: That’s only about 4 miles away.
K: Playground near your work?
M: About 5 miles away.
(It would be way too easy if something that’s 10 minutes away would actually be twice as far as something that’s 5 minutes away!)
K: Oh fine, how about my gymnastics class?
(This one, depending on the traffic is between 15 minutes and half an hour away).
M: Let me check (googlemaps to the rescue). Hey look, it’s exactly 8.5 miles away!
So now I think that when I talk to Katie about how far away something is, I’ll try to mention both the distance in miles and the amount of time it takes to get there. Maybe I should also have her run/walk a mile to give her a “real” sense for it. I also see maps making their appearences in future discussions on the topic.
And here’s a picture of Katie after the bike ride: