Outdoor Activities to Boost Math Skills

by Ron Mohl | Lakeshore Lead Educational Presenter

For kids, outdoor play is a nonstop adventure! As they frolic in the fresh air, their senses are heightened and their attention is sharp—they open up to new experiences. That’s why engaging outdoor moments provide a golden opportunity for helping kids build a stronger relationship with math. Here are some skill-building math activities kids can enjoy while having fun outside.

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Let's Predict!

Kids make an immediate and personal connection to learning when they guess what might happen during an upcoming activity. Guessing also helps kids become persistent explorers and problem solvers. Before kids head outside, have them make predictions they can test as they play. Try out these questions to get started:

How many animals/bugs will you see?
Kids can use binoculars to find birds and magnifiers to search for bugs in the grass or garden.

How many bubbles can you make?
Using the Lakeshore Big Bubbles Kit, encourage children to estimate the number of bubbles they can make each time they blow through or wave a bubble wand. Ask kids if they think they can make more bubbles on the next try by changing their technique. You can even have them predict the size of the biggest bubble they can blow.

How long will it take to dry?
Spray water on concrete, a sidewalk or a wall. Set a sand timer and have kids guess if the wet area will dry before or after time runs out. Try a variety of time increments to mix things up!

Measure It!

Kids get plenty of practice using rulers and other standard measuring tools in school. They can practice nonstandard measurement while having fun outside!

What’s the measurement?
This activity works with any nonstandard measuring tool. I personally love starting with feet—the kind with toes! Have children use the length of their feet to measure something outside by counting the number of toe-to-toe steps it takes to go along a fence, around a tree or around other landmarks outside. They can also measure using household items, like a ladle or paper towel roll.

How many claps from here to there?
Have kids count handclaps to measure how long it takes to run, skip, leap or gallop from one point to another. Ask them what they reach faster—the swing set or the basketball court. (Remind them that fewer claps indicate a faster journey!) Tip: Set the pace of the clapping to help children stay consistent.

Game-Hoop Sorting

Finding and gathering items in nature is the perfect way to introduce classification and sequencing. Have kids start by gathering items like leaves, rocks and pinecones. Then extend their play with these math ideas:

How would you classify these items?
Lay a game hoop on concrete pavement. Then use chalk to divide the inside area into “pizza slices.” Have kids use each “slice” to sort nature items into different groups by size, color, texture, etc.

How should we arrange these items?
Next, draw a line on the pavement and have kids sort their items from large to small, soft to hard or light to dark. This form of organizing helps kids work on their ability to put items in order.

 Get Moving with Math!

It’s easy to enrich gross motor activities, like jumping and leaping, with math practice to help kids build balance, muscle and math skills at the same time. Here are some ways to get kids moving:

What’s your next move?
Create an obstacle course! Put up signs to prompt kids to repeat a physical pattern (touch your toes, hop, crawl, touch your toes, hop, crawl, and so on) as they move between two different points outside. Test children’s recall by using a game hoop or other marker to replace one of the movement prompts to see if they can remember the missing move.

How do you do that move?
Break down any move—like a jump, hop or leap—into its separate sequential moves while modeling ordinal counting with children. For example:

Jumping
1. Bend your knees.
2. Blast off with both feet to go up.
3. Land on both feet.

Leaping
1. Stand on one foot.
2. Thrust forward, leading with the foot in the air.
3. Land on the foot that was in the air.

How long is our train?
Have children create human trains by lining up together based on characteristics you call out. You might say, “Line up if you’re wearing blue…if you’re a girl…or if you have buttons on your clothes!” Then have kids count off how many of them are in the train.

As the weather warms up, try any—or all—of these activities! Children will never look at math practice the same way again. Have fun!

References:
1. Angela Oswalt, “Cognitive Development: Piaget Part III,” MentalHelp.Net, last modified June 9, 2010, https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/cognitive-development-piaget-part-iii/.