Mathematics is a part of everyday life and we can incorporate it in daily activities from a very young age. In early education we are always busy, and naturally we can become complacent and stick with activities and ideas that are most familiar to us. It is always important to reflect, make changes and explore new ideas and ways of teaching. I adore outdoor learning and in particular the Forest School ethos, so I am always exploring ways in which I can use natural resources to support learning and play.
As we grow up maths can become a subject at school that we either take to easily or we have to work hard at to understand. Often this comes down to the teacher and whether the foundations for basic mathematics have been laid correctly. I therefore think it is so important for us as early educators to teach maths in a practical, hands on and exciting way so that we stimulate that love for learning early on.
So how can you teach maths outdoors? Simple!
Sometimes the best activities are the most simple. I have set up this activity with children aged 2, 3, 4 and 5 years old and they love it!
Firstly, collect a selection of natural resources with the children. These resources will be the items in the shop, pinecones, sticks, conkers, acorns, leaves, wild flowers and such like. The children can then group the items and count how many they have of each. This activity is a great for mathematical language as well as the children being involved in the setting up of the activity. When children are involved in the whole process of an activity, it allows them to have better understanding and be far more engaged and interested.
Wood chippings or stones are great resources to use as money at the shop, an item could cost ‘3 stones’ for example. As the adult it is important to model the correct mathematical language and ask questions like, “if I took two of your chocolate sticks away, how many would I have left to buy?”. This is a simple way to introduce subtraction and adding but in a fun and informal way.
There are so many ways in which you can create or look for shapes in the outdoor environment. Firstly creating a template of shapes on paper, acting as a spotter sheet for walks out and about; “see if you can see a triangle on our walk today!” or collecting sticks to copy the shapes on the template sheet. Nature provides us with so many resources, we do not need to always buy activities, but use what we already have for free. By using natural resources (wild flowers, pine cones, leaves etc) children can create shapes/patterns and sequences whilst learning about the world around them and getting physical outdoor exercise!
Learning about different sizes can be great fun and sticks are an endless resource! Start with the biggest stick you can find, and in order organise them from the largest to the smallest. Children love this activity but it does not have to be done just with sticks, leaves, and stones are great too – be creative!
I also enjoy taking out ‘hand’ and ‘feet’ templates and inviting the children to measure the length of their play area, plants and generally anything that they find, supporting their understanding of measurement and exploration.
Anything that can be done indoors can be done outdoors! The opportunities are endless, sorting resouces, grouping, colour matching…the list goes on! Outdoor education allows children to have a holistic learning experience and be involved in the process, which encourages learning!
Jamie Victoria, AKA the Childcare Guru, has worked as a, nursery manager, forest school leader and deputy head. Today she offers bespoke consultancy and training for early years settings as well as forest school sessions and much more. Find her at www.thechildcareguru.co.uk