Mathematics & creativity

How many children are as big as a baby elephant?


Using the picture book ‘Elmer’ by Davis McKee. We had been looking at patterns but then a question was posed that I had not expected…….

During the topic ‘Animals’ a discussion of which animals we could have in the classroom arose. They decided that an elephant would not fit, but what about a baby elephant? How big is a baby elephant?

baby elephant

Together, the children researched how big a baby elephant is by using the topic books in the classroom and we also looked on the internet.

An approximate outline the size of a baby elephant has been dran on the paper.

baby elephant outline

We checked that the baby elephant would be able to get through the door (it could). The children spontaneously began to make other comparisons.

I suggested we see how many children could fit lying down in the outline. The children extended this to how many could sit cross-legged on it and how many could stand on it (we had to invite another class to join us….). Finally, we investigated how many paper squares were needed to cover it and make it look like Elmer the elephant. The discussions whilst doing this activity were all about comparisons: how could we fit more children on the elephant? Why did more fit standing than sitting? How many teachers would we need to fill the elephant instead of children?

The children helped to record the results on the board.

elephant measuring results

They stuck the squares onto the elephant outline.

making Elmer

The finished patchwork elephant contained 52 squares.


This is a lovely example of how a question from a child can form the basis of all kinds of maths activities. In this case the children were comparing sizes, measuring with non-standard units, writing numbers, comparing amounts, discussing more-less and having a lot of fun!