English: Copyright catalogs at the Library of ...

Copyright catalogs at the Library of Congress. Located in room LM-404 of the James Madison Memorial Building, Washington DC. :The publication data for each magazine issue was hand-entered on the 3 by 5 inch index card. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On a recent visit, my grandson asked me how big Virginia was.

I asked him if he wanted to know the size in land or people.

He said both.

I got out 50 index cards. We wrote the name of one state on each card.

We looked up the area, in square miles, for each state and wrote it on the index cards.

Then, I asked him to lay out the index cards in order, by size, stretching out across our living room, dining room and kitchen, so he could see where Virginia fits, relative to other states.

Then, we looked up population and wrote that on the back of the cards.

He then laid them down again, in order by size, smallest to largest.

He learned how to say six- and seven-digit numbers.

He learned to notice which number was most important, millions first, then hundreds of thousands.

And, he learned which states were the largest and smallest.

You and your grandchild can learn about ordering with a shorter, simpler version of this activity.


  • Index cards
  • Pen or pencil
  • Reference materials for looking up size and population of states. We used the Internet. You could as easily use an almanac.
  • Optional: U.S. map


  • Ask your grandchild which two states they think are the largest in size
  • If you have a map, see if they can decide which are the largest from looking at the map
  • Write the name of each large state on an index card
  • Ask them which two they think are the smallest
  • Write the name of each small state on an index card
  • Ask them if they think the state they live in is larger or smaller
  • Write the name of their state on an index card
  • If different, ask them whether they think your state is larger or smaller
  • Write the name of your state on an index card
  • Look up the area in square miles of each state. Write it on one side of the appropriate index card for that state
  • Look up the size in population for each state. Write it on the other side of that state’s card
  • Ask your grandchild to lay the cards out in area size order.
  • Then, ask them to flip them over and lay them out in population size order.
  • Optional: older children may be interested to know that the number of Congressmen in the House of Representatives for a state is determined by population. This is recalculated after every Census, every ten years, and can change the number of Congressmen in that state.
  • Click here to see the 2010 Congressional apportionment, which states gained or lost Congressmen and which stayed the same.

Why Is Ordering Important?

Putting something in order means you can compare things you can count.

You can compare area and population, for example.

But, not all things compare.

For instance, you couldn’t say blue was greater than red, unless you were talking about its position in a rainbow.

You couldn’t say water is greater than milk.

But, you could compare the volume of a glass of water to the volume of a bucket of milk.

Back to the Congressmen example.

The number of Congressmen is determined by population, not by area.

But, all states get two Senators. So, no state has a greater number of Senators than any other state.

How big is your state?


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers



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