Maths outdoors can be tailored to meet the educational needs of all children from early years all the way up to key stage 1 and 2. The outdoors provides us with the space to teach children maths and numeracy in creative, imaginative and engaging ways. It is the perfect opportunity to learn in a practical way, accommodating individual learning styles and emphasising the relevance of mathematics in the world around them.
An outdoor treasure hunt collecting nature’s treasures is great fun at this time of year for the early years. There are pine cones, sticks and leaves to be found, counted, sorted and measured. A treasure hunt will not only progress mathematical thinking, but also improve observation skills and build knowledge and understanding of the world. Symmetry, patterns, shapes and tessellation can all be investigated by looking for geometric shapes in nature; insects often have symmetrical patterns and leaves might make a sequence or observe how the needles on pinecones tessellate like a mosaic.
Gardening can be a fantastic tool; children can measure the length of carrots, height of sunflowers, width of pumpkins and weight of potatoes. In dens and play houses children can role play being shop keepers and learn about addition and subtraction through serving their ‘customers’. Key stage 2’s could calculate the perimeter or area of your play space or calculate how many children will fit into the outdoor classroom investigating 3D shapes and problem solving. Straightforward scoring games such as hoopla, skittles or target games are easily created and adding up scores will improve maths skills through play. Games like archery, bouldering, climbing, crate stack or orienteering are all good ways to get higher level engaged and learning.
The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) have found that getting out of the classroom facilitates authentic or experiential learning and gives better access to the main pathways to learning (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic). Pupils can experience mathematics in tangible, novel settings and can be liberated from the limiting expectations of the classroom. According to the NCETM we can expect to find the following benefits:
• higher levels of motivation
• almost limitless resources
• an opportunity to see maths as cross-curricular
• greater curiosity leading to more effective exploration
• creative ideas driving investigations
• meaningful application of problem solving strategies and thinking skills
• a heightened sense of purpose and relevance
• the all important bridge between theory and reality
• greater independence and an improved attitude to learning
• greater enjoyment and achievement (one of the five Every Child Matters outcomes)
• a realisation that our environment offers opportunities for learning and enjoyment
‘Learning mathematics outside the classroom is not enrichment, it is at the core of empowering an individual’s understanding of the subject’ (NCETM).
Simple resources like chalks, tape measures, jugs, buckets, crates, magnifying glasses, canes, charts or even a pen and paper can enhance your outdoor play space and encourage children to investigate and experiment with mathematical concepts. Given the right support and resources children will naturally want to explore geometrical and numerical ideas.
Check out The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) website to see all of their fascinating studies and articles.