Kids Math: Learning About Centimeters and Metric Measurement

Students usually learn about metric measurements like centimeters, liters and kilograms in elementary school. It's important to get a firm grasp of these concepts in order to be successful in other academic subjects, especially science and math. Read on to learn more about the metric system and metric conversions.

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Metric Measurements for Kids


The metric system uses meters (m) as its basic unit of length. A meter is about as long as three feet or one yard, and it can be used to measure things like a person's height or a short distance between two points. Here are some other metric units that are used to measure length:

1 millimeter = 1/1,000 meter

1 centimeter = 1/100 meter

1 kilometer = 1,000 meters


For measuring mass, the standard metric unit is a gram (g). A paper clip has a mass of about one gram, and grams can be used to measure small items, like books and toys. Other metric units include the following:

1 milligram = 1/1,000 gram

1 centigram = 1/100 gram

1 kilogram = 1,000 grams

Liquid Volume

In the metric system, liquid volumes are measured using liters (l). A liter is equal to approximately 1/2 of a bottle of soda pop or 1/4 of a gallon of milk. You can also use liters to measure gases and semi-solid substances like powder or oil. Here are some other metric units for liquid volume:

1 milliliter = 1/1,000 liter

1 centiliter = 1/100 liter

1 deciliter = 1/10 of a liter

Names in the Metric System

You may have noticed a pattern in the units above. When you attach the prefix 'kilo' to a basic unit like a meter or gram, it tells you there are 1,000 of those units. For example, a kilometer is 1,000 meters and a kilogram is 1,000 grams.

Similarly, you may have noticed that if you attach 'milli' to a unit, it means 1/1,000 of that unit, and 'centi' means 1/100 of a unit. For instance, a milliliter is 1/1,000 of a liter and a centimeter is 1/100 of a meter.

Converting Metric Units

You'll often have to convert between different metric units, like grams and milligrams. To perform your conversions correctly, follow these steps:

1. Figure out how many of the smaller units it takes to make one of the larger units. For instance, it takes 1,000 milligrams to make one gram. This number is the 'conversion factor.'
2. Determine whether you're converting a larger-sized unit to a smaller one, or vice versa.
3. If you're converting a larger unit to a smaller unit, multiply the number of larger units by the conversion factor. For example, you'd convert four grams to milligrams by multiplying four by 1,000 (4 x 1,000). In doing so, you'd discover that four grams equals 4,000 milligrams.
If you're converting a smaller unit to a larger unit, divide the number of smaller units by the conversion factor. To convert 6,000 grams to kilograms, for instance, you'd divide 6,000 by 1,000 (6,000 ÷ 1,000). So, 6,000 kilograms equals six grams.
4. Don't forget to include the correct units in your answer!
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