13 Outdoor Maths activities for Early Years to Year 6 (plus a bonus for all ages)
Here are our favourite outdoor Maths activities to enjoy with your primary school class. With summer holidays closer than ever (seriously, haven't you been counting?!) you may be taking time to reflect on the progress that you and your pupils have made in Maths this year. You may also be thinking about your plans for the summer...BBQs, camping trips and holidays abroad anyone?
While you’re enjoying the well deserved break, don’t let all of the hard work you’ve done with your pupils go to waste. Whether they’ll be heading into Year 6 in September, or they are just developing an awareness of number in Foundation Stage, help your pupils’ continue their progress by getting them in the habit of doing some outdoor Maths activities and Maths investigations and games, so that wherever they are, (and wherever you are) they can be keeping up their numbers, angles and bar charts. Your pupils can complete the activities outside while basking in the summer sun, practising key topics from KS1 and KS2 Maths without even knowing it – our favourite form of “stealth learning”.
1. Find a Maths connection
There are lots of structured activities that you can plan outdoors but why not start off by setting your pupils a more open ended, exploratory activity which challenges them to make links between things in the outdoor environment and Maths e.g. Look around you. What can you see that has a mathematical connection? Write or draw any mathematical words or shapes in and around the space you are in. Write your ideas down in words or draw a mathematical calculation. This helps pupils to start making connections with the work they do in class and the how it connects with the real world.
2. Playground problem questions
Write some word problems which require the children to explore the outdoors to find all the information they need to answer the question.
E.g. Find a picnic table. How many legs has it got?
How many legs would there be on 5 picnic tables?
If there were 44 legs, how many picnic tables would there be?
Or It costs 26p for every metre of painted lines on the school playground. How much would it cost to draw the line all the way round the netball court?
3. Get the chalk out!
All you need for this is some playground space and some chalk. In foundation stage it’s a great way to explore cardinal numbers, with children drawing a different number of items. In KS1 and KS2, you can reinforce data and statistics by creating large scale bar charts, carroll and venn diagrams. You can make it more interactive by getting the children to stand in the correct place or sort different items they find in nature into different categories.
4. Go on an angle hunt
If you are introducing right angles, make a template such as these then get out and about to see if children can spot right, acute and obtuse angles in their environment. In upper KS2 Maths, why not get the pupils to take accurate measurements of angles on the playground, then get them to create their own map with missing angles to challenge their partner, which they can then mark themselves. During your angle hunt you could also integrate some discussion about the use of horizontal, vertical, perpendicular and parallel lines.
Step outside the playground and observe cars and other traffic on a nearby road. Give younger pupils categories to collect data on or challenge older ones to come up with their own question to answer e.g. what is the most common colour car. Pupils should gather the information and then have a go at representing it in different ways.
6. Plan and run Summer Fete activities
Not necessarily outdoors but a great inspiration for Maths activities in the summer term nevertheless! Get your pupils into groups and challenge each of them to plan a stall or activity for your school summer fete or Enterprise Week. There are lots of opportunities to integrate Maths e.g. weighing ingredients to make cakes for a cake stall, ratio of squash to water if making lemonade, working out totals and giving change on the day, totalling scores for participants in any games, recording popularity of different stalls on the day and presenting the data...
7. Fun and games
There are lots of different playground games that can be used to reinforce number facts. One which works well is to get the pupils to run around and then when you blow a whistle shout out the size of the group they have to get into. You can extend this by saying “get into a multiple of 3” or “get into a squared number” or “get into a factor of 24”. Alternatively, you could try “there must be 30 fingers in each group” or “there must be 16 arms and legs in each group”
8. Position and direction
Get pupils into teams and then challenge them to direct their team mates around the playground using only turns (turn 90s clockwise, turn 180 anticlockwise) along a particular route. Make this harder by blindfolding the person following the instructions or setting obstacles for pupils to avoid.
9. Spot the shapes
Send the children out with a list of shapes to spot outside. In key stage 1 see if they can spot any regular polygons. Give weaker pupils a prompt sheet to help them. See if Key Stage 2 pupils can spot any 3d shapes, explore their properties and report back to the class. If you have digital cameras or tablets, you could even get them taking photos and presenting the info back to class for a good cross curricular link to Computing.
10. Ball games
In pairs, pupils can throw and catch a ball. Each time a successful catch is made they count up in a particular multiple. If they drop the ball they have to go back to the start. You can make this more of a competition by setting a time limit and seeing which pair can get to the highest multiple. With children who are struggling more you might want them to throw the ball round a circle and give a bit more support.
The are numerous potential opportunities for measuring experience outdoors. After reviewing different units of length, why not practise estimating by getting pupils to estimate the length of different parts of the playground, height and width of different bits of playground equipment or the distance from one particular spot to another. Then use rulers, tape measures, metres sticks to take accurate measurements. They can practise subtraction by getting pupils to calculate the difference between their estimate and the real measure. You could explore measuring with key stage 1 or foundation stage by using non standard measures e.g. how many pupils long is the playground? How many hands high is the bench?
12. Make shapes
Children could explore making 2D shapes in two ways: with their bodies, e.g. lie on the floor to make a triangle, or using large loops of string/ribbon. The string method is better for Key Stage 2 so you can look more closely at the angles, e.g. make a right angled triangle, make an isosceles triangle, make an irregular pentagon.
13. Target Games
Set a target and allocate a particular score for each area that the pupil is able to throw a beanbag into. Pupils can have clipboards and be responsible for noting down scores and adding them up. This is easily adaptable from Year 1 to Year 6: using single digit numbers for, move on to multiples of 10, 20 and 100 or challenge with a mixture of 3 or 4 digit numbers for upper KS2. You could even get them adding decimals numbers. Why not challenge each team to calculate their average score at the end?
Bonus activity: Spot Patterns
Encourage your pupils to look for patterns either in nature or on buildings. Ask them to describe the patterns. What shapes do they use? Do they tessellate? How often do they repeat? Nursery and Reception children can engage with this one just as much as Years 5 and 6 (although you may struggle with the tessellate question… )
That should be enough to last you the last few days of term, and on into the holidays. However, I’m sure there are plenty more activities I haven’t included here that you’re doing every day in the playground so do drop me an email with any other outdoor Maths ideas and I’ll add them here. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a quick call on 0203 771 0093 for a chat.
You may also like my other blog post on 10 tried and tested idesa to memorise number facts in Maths.
To find out more about our 1-to-1 Maths specialist intervention for your KS2 pupils, visit out Year 6 SATs foundation page, and for more information on earlier years, see our Year 3, 4, & 5 catch up programme.