The outdoor environment can hold tremendous value when it comes to inspiring mathematical play and learning.  There is a whole world of possibilities, free from the confines of the classroom.  In the outdoors, children have greater opportunity to play on a bigger, messier and noisier scale, making it a place where we can encourage future mathematicians. However, it’s important to highlight that ‘outdoor maths activities’ does not entail simply taking the indoors, outdoors.  The outdoors has value in it’s own right as a space where children can be inspired to engage in rich, meaningful activities.

Natural, outdoor treasures lend themselves fantastically well to Outdoor Maths Activities

Here are some ideas to get you thinking…

  • Sticks
  • Stones
  • Shells
  • Seeds
  • Flowers
  • Leaves
  • Mud
  • Water
  • Sand
  • Pinecones
  • Feathers
  • Acorns
  • Herbs

These items can be incorporated into a range of play experiences which inspire mathematical learning and development.  The scope for outdoor mathematical play is huge but here are some ideas to get you started…

Mud kitchen play:

A mud kitchen area rich in opportunities to develop mathematical language and thinking.  It’s a space to weigh, measure, tip, pour, explore time related language, count, sort, make comparisons and use money.  Children love making muddy treats and will be naturally experimenting with capacity and volume. They will be learning about quantities, judging how much water they need in comparison to mud – the perfect mud pie is a fine art!  Children will also be seeing numbers on scales, jugs and in cookery books, counting spoonfuls of mud, judging how much mixture is needed in the cake tray and using language related to size.

Stick fun:

The humble stick can offer so much potential for playful mathematical learning – the more you have, the greater the mathematical possibilities! Use them as a measuring tool, challenging children to find something taller, shorter, longer or smaller than their stick.  Task them with measuring how many sticks long certain objects are (shorter sticks are better for this!) – how many sticks long is the table? How many sticks tall is the cable reel? Sticks are also great for counting, sorting and making comparisons.  They can also be used to together to make shapes or frames, great for transient art or a game of natural noughts and crosses.

Natural number lines:

Build a collection of stones and write numerals on them, or perhaps use wood cookies or even hessian squares.  Children can then arrange these in sequence to form a number line.  Next, challenge the children to find the correct number of natural items to correspond with the numbers.  This is also great for developing children’s observational skills.

Obstacle courses:

Getting children involved in creating obstacle courses is a great way to motivate them to think about the space around them.  They will be considering what fits where, the space required, the shape and height of objects and how to link equipment together.  When children are taking part in an obstacle course, adults can introduce positional language such as in, on, under, over and through. Add some extra challenge by introducing a timer, measuring who comes first, second, third etc.

Find me 1, 2, 3…:

Encouraging children to find you a set number of objects is a way to encourage them not just to count but also to subitise.  They begin to recognise what ‘2’ looks like, for example, and in doing so they no longer need to count.  It’s also a good way of practising listening and attention skills!

The role of the adult:

The adult’s role is to encourage children to become excited about outdoor maths, whether it’s cold and wet or dry and sunny.  Adults can facilitate an environment rich in opportunity.  This is somewhere that children feel safe and ready to engage with the world around them.  There will be a variety of interesting resources, experiences that offer challenge and risk and appeal to all characteristics of effective learning.

Adults play a key role in observing children, assessing their development so they can build a picture of how learning can be extended through scaffolding.  These observations also enable adults to make sense of the environment – how, where and when children are engaging in mathematical play in the outdoors and whether there is scope to improve the provision and practice.

An understanding of how valuable the outdoors is as a way of developing children’s interest in mathematical play is essential.  This is where staff observations, critical discussions and supervisions come in.  It may be that some adults find outdoor play challenging and need support through professional development opportunities.  Sometimes, it as simple as just taking it back to basics and making the most of what you have around you or objects you have collected yourself outside of the setting. 

The adult is an encourager, supporting children to ‘have a go’, learning in a playful and hands on way.  There are opportunities to scaffold learning through sensitive, timely interactions.  This is especially valuable in terms of language development, a key focus in the revised EYFS.  Outdoor maths can inspire lots of rich language related to size, shape, length, weight, space and patterns.  Adults can model vocabulary, offering language which children can add to their word banks and use in different contexts, indoors and outdoors.  For instance, think of mathematical words to describe a humble stick.  On their own, children might use ‘big’ and ‘small’.  However, adults can offer many other words such as massive, gigantic, tiny, thin, narrow, think, stubby, curved etc.

And finally…

The outdoors is a space to really embed mathematical thinking and the understanding of concepts.  Hands on activities enable children to experiment and develop confidence in their abilities, as well as practising their skills.  It’s a way to problem solve, test out ideas, engage with challenge and risk as well as social learning.  The nature of the outdoors is a space of freedom, awe and wonder and somewhere to develop enquiring minds. Outdoor Maths Activities.

A gallery of Outdoor maths activities below:

Check out our outdoor maths activity prompt cards here. Written by Creative Star Learning.

We hope that you have got lots of ideas to take away from our Outdoor Maths Activities post. Don't forget to tag us in your maths setups.

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With thanks to The Cosy Creatives for this blog post.

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