Big numbers.

English: A bowl of white granulated sugar. The...

A bowl of white granulated sugar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How long would it take you to count to one million?

Eleven and-a-half days, if you counted at the rate of one number a second.

This activity helps you see how much one million of something is.


  • White, granulated sugar
  • Measuring cup
  • One sheet of black construction paper


  • Measure out one-quarter cup of sugar
  • Pour it onto the black construction paper

What Should Happen?

You have just measured out one million granules of sugar.

Why Is This Important?

Numbers with lots of zeros, like million, billion and trillion are hard to understand because it takes so long to count that high.

A useful way, though, to understand how really big they are is to compare them to something else that is big. Of course, with a big number, you have to count very small things if you’re going to keep it in a small space. Thus, the sugar granules.

It also helps to compare big numbers to other things that come in big numbers, like the number of people in the United States (314 million or the number of stars in the Milky Way (100 thousand million)

A good understanding of big numbers helps prepare grandchildren for careers where this might be useful, such as astronomy or biology.

Thanks to David Adler, author of Millions, Billions & Trillions, for suggesting this activity.

 This post was first published as a guest post on Grandma blog, Thanks, Cheryl!

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

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

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