Shapes with Sticks – Learning Outdoors through Play
Making shapes with sticks is a fantastic hands-on way for children to explore the properties of shapes. Children can apply their knowledge of shapes by creating them, and then exploring their properties by experimenting with their creations. Research shows that children learn best when they are actively involved in learning, and have the freedom to try things out and problem solve on their own (Hirsh-Pasek, Zosh, et al., 2015; Matte-Gagne, Bernier, & Lalonde, 2015). Learning outdoors also provides a range of benefits to children’s ability to learn and their wellbeing.
Before doing this activity, you will want to talk to them about the properties of shapes. You can discuss how many sides and points different shapes have. The shapes in most classrooms are standard in appearance, so often children assume that shapes have to look a certain way. For example, they will not recognize a triangle if it is rotated with the point side down or if it is an obtuse triangle versus an equilateral triangle. This activity will allow children to move the shapes around, and to look at them from different perspectives. They can then discuss how the shape is still a triangle even if seen from a different prespective or if the sides are moved to change the angles. This will help children to solidify their understanding of the properties that define each shape.
What you need to make shapes with sticks
Lots of sticks!
Questions to ask
- What shapes can you make with the sticks?
- How do you know it is a triangle/square/rectangle, etc.?
- What happens if you move around and look at it from here? Is it still a triangle/square, etc.? Why?
- How many points are there? How many sides?
- Can you make any pictures with the shapes?
- What happens if you move the side of the stick over? Is it still a triangle, etc.?
- Can you fit inside your shape? Is it possible for more than 1 person fit inside? Can you fit more or fewer people into the shape if you change it?
- What type of angle is that? What happens if you change it?
What they get from making shapes with sticks
This activity gives children a way to experiment with shapes and to explore their properties through play. It exposes them to the language related to shapes, and to the concepts related to the attributes of shapes. It is also a means for them to acquire the language related to comparing and contrasting shapes and measurements. These words include bigger/larger, smaller, longer, and shorter. They can also develop positional language such as inside, outside, left, right, under, over, beneath, on top, and above. Learning is promoted by moving and changing the sides and angles as a way to explore the properties of shapes. As children get older, they can also explore the relationships between angles and sides. With a triangle, for example, they can see how changing the angle changes the length of the opposite side.
Learning outside is a great way for children to experience nature firsthand. According to Dr Malone (2014), a review of worldwide research leads to many benefits to children’s learning and wellbeing. Children who have learning experiences outside the classroom achieve higher results in knowledge and skills acquisition tests and show improved confidence and self-esteem. They also tend to have better motor skills and physical fitness. Further, outdoor learning improves children’s social competence, attention, self-esteem and mental health.
Taking it further
Children can explore making shapes within shapes. It is a fun game to see how many shapes they can make and find. They can also make shapes to form pictures of such things as a house, a castle, a bridge, or simply some interesting patterns using shapes.
Matte-Gagna, C., Bernier, A., & Lalonde, G. (2015). Stability in maternal autonomy support and child executive functioning. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(9), 2610-2619.
Hirsh-Pasek, K.*, Zosh, J.M.* (*joint first authors), Golinko , R., Gray, J., Robb, M., & Kaufman, J. (2015).Putting education in educational apps: Lessons from the Science of Learning. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16, 3-34.
K. A. Malone (2008). Every experience matters: An evidence based research report on the role of learning outside the classroom for children’s whole development from birth to eighteen years. Farming and Countryside Education (FACE). Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Karen_Malone3/publication/265231721_every_experience_matters_An_evidence_based_research_report_on_the_role_of_learning_outside_the_classroom_for_children’s_whole_development_from_birth_to_eighteen_years/links/54414e170cf2a6a049a5704f/every-experience-matters-An-evidence-based-research-report-on-the-role-of-learning-outside-the-classroom-for-childrens-whole-development-from-birth-to-eighteen-years.pdf [Accessed 15 November 2019]