Outdoor Maths Activities EYFS – Outdoor Maths Ideas
The following are some of my favourite outdoor maths ideas & activities for EYFS (Early Years – Children aged approximately 2-5). For outdoor maths activity ideas for older children, you may want to see my post, Outdoor Maths Activities KS1.
Young children need to be able to manipulate and use hands-on materials to explore mathematical thinking. Using manipulatives and representing mathematical ideas in many different ways allows children to develop a deeper understanding and to make connections between different areas of maths. Children need to be able to use objects to help them with counting and with the representation of numbers. This will help them begin to solve simple arithmetic problems so that they can develop strong mathematical skills (Anghileri, 2006).
Children will gain a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts and how different areas interrelate if they are given hands-on opportunities to explore (Carruthers & Worthington, 2004). In the long-term, this will help them develop confidence in maths, as well as allow them to apply their learning to problem solve. These outdoor maths activities for EYFS will help make connections and reinforce classroom learning.
Outdoor Maths Activities & Ideas EYFS
I have grouped theses outdoor maths activities & ideas based on different areas of learning for EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage). They are primarily for children ages 2-5, but they can be adapted for older children as well.
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Number & Place Value (including counting)
- Counting natural objects –counting out how many you have in total and matching the total to a numeral (you may use numicon to help scaffold counting).
- Nature hunt – Children can search for a set number of different natural objects. Ex. Children might search for 5 pinecones, 4 sticks, 3 stones, 2 leaves and 1 feather.
- Number hunt – children can search for numerals, groups of objects, 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).
- Tens frame– Children can use an outdoor ten frame to count objects (and begin to subitise). They can place the same number on the frame in different ways (and recount). Doing this will help them see that 5, for example, may look different but still be 5. How many do you have? What if you place them like this- how many are there now? How do you know?
- Stone stacking – Children can make stone towers and count the total. It is also an excellent way for children to explore balance and centre of gravity.
- Games– Children can play games such as ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ to practice counting steps.
- Counting in play – Adults can encourage children to count as they play and explore. For example, How many steps does it take to cross a bridge? Can you count how many hops it takes to get from one point to another? How many steps to the top? Etc. Alternatively, you could roll large dice and children can count/do that many claps, hops, etc.
- Transient art & counting – Get children to create a picture using 5 or 10 objects. They can do this individually, or they can work collaboratively.
- Mathematical language– Find ways to use mathematical language with children as you are out and about- e.g. how many bowls are in the mud kitchen? How many tomato plants are growing? Can you count how many flowers/peapods/squash/tomatoes, etc. are growing? Are there lots/few/5 trees in the woods? How do you know? How can you check?
- Counting songs– Children can sing counting songs (ex. 5 little ducks, 5 little speckled frogs, etc.) and use props to help them count and act it out.
- Ordering numbers– Children can use number rocks or number logs to practice ordering numbers. They may even go on to practice counting in 2’s (skip counting). What comes first? Which number is larger? How do you know?
- Number games– Children can play number games with rocks – ex. Swapping numbers or missing number games.
- Free play with numbers– Allow children to play with number rocks or stump numbers in their play. This can lead to finding creative ways to use numbers.
- Hopscotch– Children can use or even help make a hopscotch board. They can practice counting and identifying numbers as they play.
- Nature number line – Hang rope between trees (or along a fence if you are concerned about children running into the rope) and provide pegs. Children can hang up and order numbers to make a number line. They might collect things like leaves to pin up on the line to correspond with the value. What number comes next? How do you know? What is one more than…?
- Minibeast hunt – Children can go on a minibeast hunt counting and keeping 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. How many ladybirds have you found?
Identifying & writing numbers
- Numbers on the ground– Children can play a game of calling out numbers and having to run to stand on that chalk number. To challenge them, you could have them hold up the corresponding value on their fingers. Where is number 4? Can you show me 4 on your fingers?
- Numbered cars and parking spaces– Children can play with cars labelled with numbers and park them in ‘parking spaces’ with a corresponding number, dice value or tally marks.
- Numbers & bikes – In a school with several bikes, cars, etc. for children to ride, they can be labelled with numbers and parked in ‘parking spaces’ with a corresponding number, dice, tally marks or other values. Children can take turns on the bikes, signing their names on a list corresponding with the number of the vehicle, and then using a sand timer to take turns.
- Writing numbers– Children may write numbers in the sand or the dirt with sticks or their fingers. They could write numbers on the pavement with chalk or with paintbrushes using water or trace over numbers written in chalk with water paintbrushes. They could also use sticks, stones or other natural objects to create numerals.
- One more or one less– If you have a group of objects (e.g. 3 stones) help children find one more or one less of the number by adding in one more or taking one away (and then recounting the pile).
- Number line– Children can write out or make a number line to 10 (or hopscotch) and find one more or one less by counting forwards or backwards. It may help children to count objects to go with each number.
- Skittles or bowling– Children can play games such as skittles or bowling. 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.
- Target games– Targets can be put up (or drawn) on walls, or hula hoops hung up on a line. Children can throw balls, beanbags, ‘rockets’, etc. to hit the target or throw through the hoop to score. Alternatively, hula hoops or buckets can be placed on the ground and balls or beanbags can be thrown in to score points.
- Counting crops from the garden– 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 crops from the garden– Share (pass out) fruit or vegetables grown in the garden. Discuss ways of making it fair. Can children figure out when it is the same value?
- Tic Tac Toe with sticks– This is a simple strategy game that children can play. They can then go on to play more complex strategy games such as Nim.
Geometry (Shape Space and Measure)
- Shape hunt– Children can go on 2D shape hunts outside. What shape is it? How do you know?
- Shapes made out of sticks, rocks, etc. – Children can copy over ones drawn in chalk or create their own freehand.
- Construction– Children can use large blocks, planks of wood and other construction materials to create large 3D shapes and spaces. What have you created? Tell me about it.
- String shapes– They can use loops of string or large bands to make shapes. They can do this in partners/groups and see how manipulating it changes the way the shape looks or perhaps turn it into a different shape. How can you make a triangle, square, rectangle, etc.? Can you show me different ways to make a triangle?
- Transient art– Children can make symmetrical pictures or mandalas with natural objects.
- Exploring symmetry – They may explore symmetry in nature, perhaps using a mirror to help and even make their own creations (see mandalas above). What do you notice about your picture? If you place this here, is it still symmetrical? Why or why not?
- Nature patterns– Children can also make patterns with natural objects, such as repeating patterns. What comes next? How do you know?
- Dam building / Den building – Children can use materials such as sticks and rocks to build a fort/den, or to block off or dam a stream. This is an excellent opportunity for children to practice estimating length and using spatial rotation to help them construct.
- Trails and obstacle courses– Children can follow trails or make obstacle courses with logs, sticks, stumps, planks, etc. (Supports the use of vocabulary – over, under, through, around, next to, etc. They can use directional language to help each other get through it. )
- 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).
- Music Wall– children and can explore making sounds and patterns with an outdoor music wall.
- 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 and ways to help children to learn this.
- Measuring with non-standard units– Children can practice measuring objects with non-standard units (e.g. how many stones long is the stick). This activity is the next step after comparing lengths, but before measuring with standard units such as cm or inches.
- Daily routines– Adults can talk to children about what we do at different times of the day to help them notice the changes in the sun at various points in the day. What do you do at the beginning of the day? At the end?
- Mud Kitchen– Children can practice comparing and measuring liquids, solids, etc. using weight, volume, capacity, etc. Adults can introduce vocabulary such as full, half-full, empty, half-empty, nearly full, etc. Which bowl is largest? Which holds the most? How do you know? Can you fill the cup? Can you make it half-full?
- Sand play and water play – Similar to using a mud kitchen, children can use different size containers in a water table or sandpit to fill and empty containers (including pouring through sieves). It provides opportunities to compare volume and the capacity of different containers. Which container holds the most liquid? How can you find out?
- Potions– Children can make up or follow potion recipes. They can follow instructions to measure (with standard or non-standard units) and combine ‘ingredients.’ They might also compare relative measurements such as full, half-full, empty, etc.
- Weighing scales– Children can use balance scales to compare the weights of different objects. How many nuts are equal to the weight of your stick?
- Ramps– Children can race cars, balls etc. down ramps that can be adjusted at different heights and angles to see how changing the slopes changes the speed and distance they go. Lines with numbers (like a non-standard measure) can also be written along the ground to see how far the cars or balls can go. Children might compare different balls or cars – Which went the furthest? How do you know? Can you try anything else?
- Snail races – See how far a snail can go in one minute. Children can help you think of the best ways to measure the snail’s movement. This activity is also a way for children to help count 1 minute and get an idea of how long 1 minute is.
I hope that you find this list of outdoor maths activities & ideas for EYFS helpful. I have also compiled a list of some of my favourite outdoor maths activities & ideas for KS1, which you may want to explore for some more challenging ideas.
References – Outdoor Maths Activities EYFS & Outdoor Maths Ideas
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.