Outdoor Maths Activities KS1 -Maths Outdoor Learning
The following is a list of some of my favourite outdoor maths learning activities for KS1 (Key stage 1 – ages approximately 5-7). Maths in outdoor and outside learning is a fun way for children to use maths in real, hands-on situations. It also promotes making connections between different areas of maths learning.
Younger children, in particular, need the experience of manipulating real-life materials and exploring mathematical thinking. These experiences help them to develop an understanding of the value of numbers, and later, what happens during arithmetic operations. Children need to have a wide variety of opportunities to practice counting and problem solving using tangible objects. It allows them to develop a deep understanding of numbers, number facts and the changes that take place during various operations (Anghileri, 2006). It does take children longer to learn through exploration and hands-on methods rather than learning by rote. However, they will gain a deeper understanding, including how and why they work, rather than just the process (Carruthers & Worthington, 2004). In the long-term, this will help them to build confidence in maths, as well as allow them to apply their knowledge in problem-solving.
Outdoor Maths Activities KS1
I have grouped theses outdoor maths activities based on different areas of learning for KS1. They are primarily for children ages 5-7, but they can be adapted for younger and older children.
Number & Place Value (including counting)
- Counting objects from nature – This might include doing nature hunts for a certain number of objects and even counting objects with number frames or numicon for support. Collecting objects provides many opportunities for counting and learning maths in the outdoors.
- Number rocks or number logs– Children can practice ordering numbers, and then may go on to practice ordering/counting by 2s, 5s (e.g. skip counting).
- Number games- Children may play number games with rocks – ex. Swapping numbers or missing number games.
- Nature number line – Hang rope between trees (or along the fence if concerned about children running into the rope) and provide pegs. Children can hang up and order numbers to make a number line. Children might collect things like leaves to pin to correspond with the value. Which number comes first? Which number is bigger (has a larger value)? How do you know?
- Place Value- Place value frame (e.g. tens and ones) with sticks or rocks- Children can practice representing tens and ones using, for example, 1 stick for each 1 and a bundle of 10 sticks for each ten (or children may swap a large rock to replace a bundle of 10 sticks). Ex. 35 can be shown by 3 bundles of sticks and 5 sticks or 3 large rocks and 5 sticks (or even pebbles). Which is greater? Which is less? Can you prove it?
- Number bonds- Practice number bonds to tens with sticks or rocks. Children can find all the ways to add two numbers together to make 10 (and even all numbers 1-10). For even deeper learning children can explore combining 3 or more values to add up to 10 (or numbers to 10) (see below in arithmetic). Is there a way to check you have found all the number bonds? Can you record them? Show me…
- Greater or less than – Children can practice representing greater than or less than with sticks. They can see this visually by fitting in rocks (see example below) to see which is bigger or smaller < >. Which is greater? Which is less? How can you prove it?
- 100 square- Make a massive 100 square outdoors on the pavement with chalk. Children can fill in the 100 square using number rocks or number log slices, or even writing numbers onto the square with chalk. Which number comes first? Do you notice anything about the hundred square? What happens when you count up /down 10?
- Counting Picture- Children can work collaboratively to create a picture using 10/20/30 objects they find in nature. Children have to work together to find the objects and make sure they have the exact number of objects.
- Number hunt – children can search for numerals, written out words for numbers, and/or dice or other value representations of numbers hidden outside. They can then match different representations of the same number together (and even order them). How many different ways can you make 5?
- Number writing- Children can practice writing numbers with chalk or tracing over chalk numbers by painting with water.
- Parachute or Circle games with numbers- Children can be given a number and then children swap (or run in / out of the parachute or swap places in the circle depending on if the statement is true or falls). For example, the teacher might say odd numbers, even numbers, numbers less than 5, numbers greater than 5, numbers for counting by 2 or by 5, etc.
- Minibeast Counting- Go on a minibeast hunt and have children count and keep track of what they find with tally marks or tally chart. You may want to discuss why tally marks work well for this (rather than writing down numbers). You could come together as a large group at the end and create a pictograph using their findings.
- Skip counting- Children can use number rocks to practice skip counting (e.g. practice counting in 2’s, 5’s and 10’s). Children may want to pair the numbers with the corresponding numicon. What do you notice about the numbers when counting in 2’s? What about in 5’s or 10’s?
- Counting in groups- They can use number rocks and natural objects to count out objects in 2’s (or 5’s or whatever they are counting by) and then match with the numeral for each group (e.g. first group of 2 seashells with a number 2, second group of 2 seashells with a number 4, third group of 2 seashells with a number 6, etc.).
- Using leaves for multiplication- Children can practice repeating addition as a way to help them understand multiplication. They can count the blades on the leaves to help them do this. For example, maple and horse chestnut leaves have 5 blades each so children can use them to count in 5’s. Buttercup and clover leaves have 3 blades so children can use them to count in 3’s. What do you notice about counting in 2’s, 3’s, 5’s etc?
- 100 square problem solving- Children can make a large number line or 100 square using rock numbers or chalk (described above in number and place value section). Children can use this to help them solve addition and subtraction problems. As they count up or back along the number line (to add or subtract) they might even step along it (if it is big enough). *As children become confident with adding, they can practise counting on and even counting up in 10’s when adding and subtracting double-digit numbers. What do you notice when you count up or down in 10?
- Nim- Nim is a mathematical strategy game where two players take turns removing objects from a pile. Each player must take at least one object per turn. The goal is to either get or avoid taking the last object from the pile. Children can play nim with a pile of sticks or rocks.
- Number bonds- Children can practice making all the number bonds for numbers 1-10 using sticks or rocks (see above in number and place value). Is there a way to keep track an record your number bonds?
- Counting sets- Children can throw a set number of rocks towards a hula hoop laying on the ground /circle drawn on the ground (this is a way to create number bonds). Then they can count how many rocks land inside and outside of the hoop (as well as count the total). It will help them see that no matter how many different ways they land (e.g. number bonds), the total will stay constant. Similarly, children can explore playing around with a set number of rocks on a number frame to see that it is the same value even when it looks different. Is it still 7? How can you check?
- Skittles & bowling- Children can play games such as skittles, bowling and other target games. They can identify numbers on the games, count the number of skittles or targets that are hit, add up points, take away how many objects have been knocked over, and see how many are left. There are lots of opportunities for counting, adding and subtracting with these types of garden games.
- Garden Counting- As children pick tomatoes or other fruits or vegetables from the garden, get them to count how many they picked from each plant. Then how many have they picked altogether?
- Sharing garden crops- As children pick flowers, strawberries, or other things from the garden help them practice using different types of division (e.g. sharing & grouping). For example – [Sharing] if you’ve picked 12 tomatoes how many will we each get (e.g. you & me)? If another child comes along – now how can we share them between us? [Grouping] If we are selling baskets with 6 tomatoes in each basket, how many baskets can we make to sell? How many apples do you need to make a pie?… How many pies can you make with the number of apples you have picked? You might also get into remainders if there are some leftover.
- Drawing fractions- Children can draw a large square on the pavement (or in the sand) and then find different ways to shade in ½. This is a great way for them to see that ½ can look different, but it always must add up to the same amount. As children advance, they can see how many different ways they can make ¼ or 1/8. How do you know its ½ or ¼? Is there a way you can prove it?
- Fractions with sticks- Using sticks can be a great way to introduce children to see fractions visually. If you cut sticks so there is one that is whole, 2 that are ½ , and 4 that are ¼ they can see visually how fractions are divided up. It also makes it easy to see how 2(½) = 1 and ½ = 2(¼).
- Ordering objects by length – children usually find it easy to compare two objects but may need more practice when comparing 3 or more objects. I have a post – ordering sticks by length, which reviews common misconceptions, ways to help children to learn this and questions to ask.
- Measuring with non-standard units- Children can practice measuring objects with non-standard units (e.g. how many stones long is the stick). This is the next step after comparing lengths, but before measuring with standard units such as cm or inches.
- Measuring heigh – Children can measure their height in rocks, pinecones or sticks (e.g. non-standard units) by laying down on the ground. Children can then count to see how many pinecones, sticks, or rocks tall they are.
- Measuring natural objects- Children can measure natural objects, such as plants, with a ruler. They can also go on a ‘meter hunt’ or ‘foot hunt’ to see if they can find things in nature that are a foot or meter.
- Meter or foot with natural objects- Children can try making a meter or foot using sticks, rocks pinecones or other natural objects.
- They may measure the circumference of a tree.
- Plant measuring- They may also practice measuring the height of plants (e.g. non-standard to start – e.g. 5 sticks high, then with a ruler for standard units).
- Measuring growing- Children can use measuring to help them plant seeds or seedlings. They may use a stick that is 12 inches to help them measure the distance between plants with nonstandard units. Children may then move on to using a ruler to help them measure the recommended distance between seeds or seedlings.
- Chalk clocks- Children may make clocks with sticks and chalk or with rocks, numbers and chalk to practice showing time.
- Counting 1 minute- Children can practice counting how many times you can jump, skip, or hop, or how far you can walk, etc. in one minute. How many did you do? Did you do fewer or more than last time? If you did more/less does that mean you are getting faster or slower? Can you find a way to keep track of how many hops, skips you do in a minute? What else do you think you can do in a minute?
- Timing- They may also time themselves to see how long it takes to run from one point to another, to bicycle 1 mile, to hop 20 times, etc. How can you tell if you are getting faster or slower?
- Potions- Children can make up or follow potion recipes. They can follow instructions to measure (with standard or non-standard units) and combine ‘ingredients.’ Children might also compare relative measurements such as full, half-full, empty, etc. You can challenge children – which container will hold the most potion? How do you know? Can you figure out how to order the containers by which will hold the least to which will hold the most?
- Weighing- Children can use balance scales to compare the weights of different objects. How many horse chestnuts are equal to the weight of your rock? Can you prove which object is the heaviest?
- Measuring garden crops- There are lots of opportunities for measuring when picking fruit and vegetables from your garden. What is the volume of the containers you filled with raspberries? How much do the apples or squash weigh? Which is the longest courgette? Can you order them by length? Can you measure them with your ruler? If you sell some of your crops or are, instead, getting your vegetables at a “pick your own farm”, there are opportunities to discuss money as well. If we have 2 pounds of tomatoes, how much will that cost (ex. at £0.50 per £)?
- Snail Races – see how far a snail can go in one minute. Children can help you think of ways to best measure the snail’s movement. This is also a way for children to help count 1 minute and get an idea of how lone one minute feels like.
- Sorting and ordering- Children can sort / order (gradient) natural objects (e.g. leaves, rocks) by a specific feature (ex. Shape, size, colour, or other features).
- Dam building / Den building – Children use materials such as sticks and rocks to build a fort/den or to block off or dam a stream. They could also build obstacle courses and use directional language to help each other get through it. This is an excellent opportunity for children to practice estimating length and using spatial rotation to help them construct.
- Nature symmetry- Children may explore symmetry in nature. They may use a mirror to help and even make their own creations (see mandalas below).
- Symmetry transient art- They can make symmetrical pictures or mandalas with natural objects.
- Making Patterns- Children can make patterns with natural objects. This might mean repeating patterns, or it might mean making more complicated patterns such as (x+1) or 2x or x2 etc.
- Shapes- Children can make shapes out of sticks, rocks, etc. They can copy over ones drawn in chalk or create their own freehand. To take this further, if children are using objects that are very similar in size/length (e.g. rocks or leaves) they can use them to do a non-standard unit measure of the perimeter – e.g. the rectangle is 1 leaf wide and 3 leaves long. It’s a great way to see the difference between squares and rectangles visually.
- String shapes- Children can use loops of string or large bands to make shapes (this can be done in partners/groups) and see how manipulating them changes the way the shape looks or may turn it into a different shape. How do you make a triangle or a square? Can you show me different ways to make a triangle?
- Shape pictures- Children can draw pictures (in chalk) using 2D shapes. What shapes did you use to make a house, car, etc?
- Shape hunt- Children may go on 2D and 3D shape hunts in nature. Which shape is it? How do you know?
- Pictographs – Children may organise natural objects such as leaves or flowers by features such as colour, size, type, etc. on a pictograph.
- Venn Diagrams – Using hula-hoops to sort objects by two different features (e.g. leaves by colour and size, etc.)
Outdoor Maths Activities KS1 -Maths Outdoor Learning
I hope you find this list of outdoor maths activities for KS1 helpful. They can provide a great way to enhance and complement the learning that children do in class. If you decide to try out some maths outdoor learning let me know how you get on!
References – Outdoor Maths Activities KS1 -Maths Outdoor Learning
Carruthers, E. and Worthington, M. (2004). ‘Young children exploring early calculation’. Mathematics Teaching, (187), 30-34.
Anghileri, J. (2006). Teaching number sense, (Ch. 4, pp. 49-70). London: Continuum.