Active Maths Ideas & Outdoor Maths Games
It’s great to get children to take learning outside so we will look at some active maths ideas, including some outdoor maths games too! These games are great for getting children outdoors and practising and reinforcing learning they have done in the classroom. There are many benefits to outdoor learning, including increased physical activity and improved health and wellbeing. It also develops an understanding and respect of the natural world and provides children with a more stimulating learning environment. Benefits also include improved mental health, improved social and emotional educational opportunities, improved self-esteem and resilience (Mygind, 2007; Wilkinson, 2013; Fabian, H. 2005; Dowdell, Gray & Malone, 2011). Even if you haven’t tried taking your class outside for lessons before, these outdoor maths games and active maths ideas are fun ways to begin.
Counting & Arithmetic
Many sports games can be adapted to encourage children to use maths in a way that challenges them.
Big Points Football – If children are playing football on the playground, the rules can be adapted so that they are scoring more points. For example, the goals could be as wide as the boundaries (so they score more often) and the points changed to 2, 5, 25, 50, 100, 150, etc. per goal depending on what would challenge that group of children. You may even make it, so they score a set number of points every time they go over the boundary line. This is a great way to practice addition and mental maths.
Target Games- Large target games are an excellent way for children to practice adding together different values (depending on children’s experiences and abilities). This involves throwing objects and playing together while also practising addition. To provide further challenge, you may also devise other rules such as allowing double or triple points for hitting the same place twice in a row.
Multiplication Ball Throwing Game- Children can play a game in a circle to practice multiplication. If they are practising doubling, then the person throwing the ball would call out a number, ex. “five”, and the person catching the ball would double it, calling out “ten”. The game could also be set up for children to practice different times tables having them triple, quadruple, etc. the number called.
Multiplication Circle Game- Children can play this game while sitting or standing in a circle. Have them count around the circle beginning with the number 1. They would then prepare to jump every time their number is in the 5’s times table and clap every time they get a number in the 3’s times table. Before each game, you can set the rules based on which times tables you want them to practice.
Maths Relay Races- In groups, children can run a relay race to complete a times table (e.g. counting in 2’s, 3’s, 4’s etc.). This way one person would run up to a line and write the first number (x1), then run back to the group. Then the second person would run up and write the second number (ex. x2).
Nature Hunt and Arrays/Groups – Send children on a scavenger hunt to find, for example, 2 feathers, 5 pinecones, 15 pebbles, 20 leaves, etc. Then you might challenge them to make arrays (groupings) to see how objects can be grouped in different ways to make a set value.
Obstacle Courses – You could also set up an obstacle course and have children time themselves to see how fast they can complete it. They can then repeat attempting to go faster and beat their times.
How Many Can you do in One Minute – Children may also challenge themselves to see how many times they can do something such as star jumps, by running back and forth between two points, jump up and down, etc. in one minute. Then they can challenge themselves to see if they can do even more the second time. If they are given two minutes, can they double it?
One Minute Dance- One game I like a lot is having children run around or fun dance to music and see if when the music stops they can estimate how many seconds have elapsed. Similarly, children can try to estimate a minute by dancing or jumping up and down and then sitting down on the ground when they think one minute has passed.
Measuring Jumps- Children can practice doing long jumps or standing jumps and measure how far they can jump. They can then compare the length of their jump to that of other children in their group or class. They can also compare how far they can jump if they did a standing jump versus a walking jump, running jump, and/or one or two leg jump. This way, they will not only practice measuring but also use subtraction to find the difference.
Estimating Distance- Children can count how many steps it takes for them to get from one point to another. Then they could measure the length of one step and multiply this by the number of steps to estimate the distance between the two points that they walked. It’s fun to then use a measuring wheel to see how close their estimates are.
Making Circles- Children can stand on a chalk marked spot and then jump to a new spot to form the radius of a circle. Next, they can extend a string from the starting point (keeping it help down here) to the jump spot. Lastly, using a piece of chalk, rotate the tightened string completely around starting at the new spot to draw a circle. Alternatively, this can be done in soft dirt, using a stick. Once the circle is drawn the children can measure its circumference and diameter, using the string if needed. They can also compare their circumferences and diameters to see how they affect one another.
Big Fractions – In teams, have the children draw a large circle with a set diameter, or a square with a set perimeter (ex. 3 or 4 meters). Then have them shade in a certain fraction. They could start with simple fractions and then might move on to doing equivalent fractions such as 1/2 and 2/4.
Shape Scavenger Hunt- Have the children go on a scavenger hunt to look for 2D and 3D shapes in the world around them. You could also have them find different types of triangles such as equilateral, isosceles, or scalene triangles.
Angle Scavenger Hunt- Children can go on a scavenger hunt to look for acute, obtuse and right angles. Challenge them to find as many different examples of each as they can.
Symmetry Scavenger Hunt- Children can go on a scavenger hunt for things with 1 line of symmetry, 2 lines of symmetry or to find something with rotational symmetry.
Take it Further
References – Active Maths Ideas & Outdoor Maths Games
Fabian, H. (2005). Outdoor learning environments: Easing the transition from the foundation stage to key stage one, Education 33(2), 3-13.
Mygind, E. (2007) A comparison between children’s physical activity levels at school and learning in an outdoor environment, Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 7:2, 161-176.
Wilkinson, R. (2013) The benefits of outdoor learning in a natural environment, Bachelor thesis. Retrieved from https://skemman.is/bitstream/1946/15693/1/B.ed%20thesis.pdf
Dowdell, K., Gray, T., & Malone, K. (2011). Nature and its influence on children’s outdoor play, Australian Journal of Outdoor Education 15(2), 24-35.