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:

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

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!

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/.

Get Kids Moving: 6 Ideas for Active Play

Guest Blog by Clarissa | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Munchkins and Moms

Active play is not just an important piece of all our homeschool days—it’s a vital part!

As kids move their bodies through play, they are not only improving their health but are also developing a sense of self and space. They are physically internalizing the concepts of left and right, above and below, forward and backward, etc. These are important prerequisites for reading (left-to-right, top-to-bottom progression), math (moving forward and backward on a number line) and so much more!

On warm, sunny days, it’s easy to get outside and play…but staying active when stuck indoors can be a bit more of a challenge. That’s why we’ve added a few new versatile toys and games to our home. They can be used outdoors in the beautiful spring weather, or they can be brought indoors when it’s rainy. Either way, we are prepared for fun and active play this spring!

Here are a few of our favorite ways to keep our minds and bodies active:

Idea 1: Go “alphabet” bowling.

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This isn’t your average bowling set! The Alphabet Bowling set from Lakeshore Learning comes with every letter of the alphabet and a foam “bowling” ball. We couldn’t wait to set it up!

We played this game both inside and outside for the chance to compare and contrast how the ball rolls on different surfaces. Bowling is also a great way to work on eye/hand coordination and practice friendly competition.

Here are some more ways we plan to use the game:

  • Spell words (sight-words, kids’ names, etc.) to knock down using the ball.
  • Use the foam letters in a seek-and-find game.
  • Stack the letters to form alphabet towers.

Idea 2: Skip, hop and jump to boost math and reading skills.

We’ve discovered hours of learning fun using a sidewalk and some chalk.

To practice reading skills, we draw a 5′ x 5′ grid on the sidewalk and write a letter in each square. Then we call out simple words, and the boys hop on the letters that spell each word.

We use the same simple grid for a math maze by erasing the letters and replacing them with numbers. The boys love counting from 1 to 20 or skip-counting by 2s, 5s, 10s or 100s as they hop around the grid.

Next time, we plan to draw an out-of-order number sequence grid on the sidewalk and have the boys hop and skip over the squares to count in the correct order. When it’s time to learn multiplication, we’ll shout out numbers and have the boys jump on the two factors.

Idea 3: Play ball!

We love playing with lots of different balls—footballs, soccer balls and baseballs are some solid favorites. Playing ball is great for eye/hand coordination and promoting cooperative play skills. Our new favorite balls are these rainbow-colored, Soft & Safe Comet Balls from Lakeshore. They are unique and completely irresistible to kids!

The balls come in a rainbow of colors, and they’re so fun to throw! The ball portion is made from a soft, easy-grip material that won’t hurt other kids (or break windows).

My boys didn’t limit themselves to tossing from the head of the comet. They gleefully spun the ball from the tail and sent it flying sky-high, too! You can use these balls for countless games, such as:

  • Comet tag. Simply toss the ball to tag a friend.
  • Target practice. Aim balls at a chalk target on the sidewalk.

We took out a bucket and practiced making comet baskets for a fun twist on a classic activity. This game can also be taken indoors on rainy spring days!

Idea 4: Enjoy leapfrog (and other classic childhood games)!

Leapfrog, hopscotch, jump rope—these are some of the classic childhood games my kids and I enjoy together! The games only require a few supplies (or no supplies at all) for fun and active play and can be modified for both indoor and outdoor use. For example, use painter’s tape (instead of chalk) to make an indoor hopscotch game.

Leapfrog, hopscotch, and jump rope all provide great opportunities for kids to improve balance and coordination while having fun. As kids go through childhood growth spurts, their center of gravity shifts, so it’s important to play these types of games often! Their little bodies need the physical feedback this type of play provides to stay confident in their abilities.

Playing classic games is also a great way to connect and reminisce with your kids about your own childhood. (“I used to play hopscotch like this when I was a kid!”) Recalling a story from your past provides a great framework for teaching retelling skills, an important literacy skill in early childhood education.

Idea 5: Take aim with Lakeshore’s Indoor/Outdoor Kids’ Croquet.

Croquet is a classic game that I enjoyed playing as a kid, so I couldn’t wait to share it with my boys!

This set is unique because it can be played both indoors and outdoors. We played on grass and carpet—and had fun both ways!

Playing croquet develops eye/hand coordination, promotes good sportsmanship, improves muscle control and much more! It has been one of our favorite games to play this spring.

Here are some other ways to enjoy croquet with friends:

  • Take a field trip to a senior home and invite the residents to play a game of croquet with the kids.
  • Hold a neighborhood croquet tournament. If there are more than four players, create teams of two for more fun!

Idea 6: Go for a good old-fashioned run.

When it comes to active play, running is about as classic as it gets. Whether they’re running down grassy hills or racing against one another, kids always enjoy a good run! If you want to mix things up a little bit, here are some fun variations to include in your kids’ run game:

  • Use a stopwatch to time their runs. Encourage them to beat their last times!
  • Challenge them to change direction mid-run by calling out “left” and “right” at random intervals.
  • Have them run while holding streamers behind them. (This is fun to do on a breezy day!)

There are countless ways to include running in your kids’ playtime activities! It is one of the most basic gross motor skills kids develop throughout childhood, and helping kids enjoy it offers long-term benefits.

There are so many ways to play and stay active this spring. These great games can all be taken outdoors for fun in the sun…or brought inside on rainy days. Enjoy!

The Very Real Benefits of Pretend Play

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

I am often amazed at the power of children’s imaginations. Leave a cardboard box unattended, and it’s soon being transformed into a rocket ship, puppet theater or baby doll crib. Give kids a few dress-up clothes, and they’re soon pretending to be Mom and Dad—or dashing off on their next superhero adventure. While such activities are traditionally thought of as play, acting out pretend situations is actually important work that children’s brains are wired to do—preparing for real-life roles and situations they’ll face in the future.

Pretend Play

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By encouraging pretend play at home, parents can help their children build essential skills that are key to their development, including:

Creativity – When we think of creativity, we often think of artistic pursuits, like painting a picture. But creativity is a tool that all of us use in our daily lives. As adults, we often use creative problem solving to tackle everyday challenges at work and at home. These can include complex tasks that involve months of planning and coordination, as well as simple tasks like inventing a great family dinner using only a few items left in the fridge. Children prepare for real-life problem solving by engaging in pretend play, which flexes their creative muscles in a big way.

Social-Emotional Skills – By acting out pretend situations with peers and with adults, children have many opportunities to develop valuable social skills like sharing and taking turns. They’ll also explore different ways to express their feelings and ideas—whether they’re speaking for an action figure or caring for a baby doll. And, when children pretend to be another person or animal, they practice seeing the world from a new perspective, which helps them develop empathy for others.

Language and Literacy – Pretend play fosters oral language development by encouraging children to talk, test out and even use new words as they take on different roles and characters. For example, during vehicle play, children might explore words such as “hitch,” “haul,” and “soar.” Children will also learn new words when playing with their peers, and they’ll begin to recognize words they see on pretend play props, such as menus and road signs. This is important because there is a direct correlation between the number of words young children know and their future reading success.

Cognitive and Math Skills – From sorting play money to building a castle by stacking up blocks, pretend play encourages children to use real-life props that promote early mathematical learning. As children play and explore, they begin comparing and sorting objects, counting, measuring and recognizing shapes—to name just a few of the skills that children are learning!

Children will naturally find their own ways to engage in pretend play, but here are a few simple ways that parents can guide kids along and help them make the most of these very special learning opportunities.

  1. Brainstorm pretend play ideas with your child. Grab a pencil and paper and work with your child to create a list of fun pretend play ideas. If your child needs help coming up with ideas, focus on a topic he or she is interested in. For example, if you just read a book about dinosaurs together, suggest acting out the life of a T. rex! Or, if your child likes other animals, your list might include making a jungle habitat, acting out an animal rescue or playing vet. Whenever your child is looking for something to do, pull out the list and encourage your child to pick an idea.
  2. Provide props. A few simple props can go a long way! Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
    • Create a grocery store by supplying shopping bags, play money and items to shop for, such as real or pretend food.
    • Open a vet’s office for your child’s stuffed animals by supplying bandages, a doctor’s coat and plenty of paper to make X-rays, charts and office forms.
    • Go on a pretend train ride by setting up chairs, pulling out a suitcase or two, and cutting tickets out of construction paper.
    • Turn a large box into a fire truck or police vehicle, leaving one end of the box open for children to enter and cutting a large hole out of the top for kids’ heads!
    • Get out children’s old Halloween costumes and let their imaginations run wild!
  3. Schedule play dates. Help your child build friendships and give them new opportunities for pretend play at the same time. Start the play date with a structured activity (such as a game or art project), allowing children time to break the ice and get comfortable with each other. Then pull out your list of pretend play adventures—or let the kids think of new ideas together!
  4. Join in the fun. Set aside a small block of time to join your child in pretend play. Your child will love having you as a customer in their store or as a character in an exciting adventure. Inspire your child’s imagination and encourage your child to lead the activity by asking questions like, Who should I be? or Where are we going?
  5. Make time for playtime. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make sure that open-ended pretend play is part of your child’s daily routine. For every hour that children spend watching a movie or playing games on the computer, encourage an hour or more of pretend play with the screen off. This will give children the freedom to invent their own mental images—and develop essential skills that will last a lifetime.