Bringing Maths to the School Playground

Outdoor maths

From EYFS all the way to GCSE, maths is a fixture of the curriculum. However, the way the subject is delivered doesn’t need to be confined to the classroom. There are plenty of opportunities to learn in the playground, both through outdoor lessons and through play. And with the many outdoor curriculum resources now available, bringing maths to the school playground is easier than ever. Here are just some of the ways this can be done.

Learning to count

A child’s maths journey begins by learning to recognize numbers and count. For those at a young age, one of the easiest ways to help them is through play and in the playground, this can be done in a number of ways. For example, there is now a wide range of numeracy-based playground markings that children can play on while familiarising themselves with numbers and using them to count. These include the mathematical number grid, which has numbers 1 – 100 in rows of 10, complete with the add, subtract, divide and multiply symbols, and various hopscotch-style numbered steppers.

Add, subtract, divide and multiply

When it comes to solving basic maths problems, a great outdoor resource is the abacus panel which can be used to help children count, add and subtract. The panel features three rows, for units, tens and hundreds, and has a whiteboard section for calculations, so it can even be used by older children doing more advanced sums.

To add a little fun to outdoor maths lessons, there is also the sum spinner, a mounted board on which children spin wheels to be given random add, subtract, divide and multiply questions.

Telling the time

Telling the time is an essential life skill but one that can be difficult for children to grasp when they have to count minutes and seconds in 60s and hours in 12s and 24s. Then there’s the challenge of having to convert times between traditional analogue clock faces and the numerical times displayed on digital devices.

One outdoor resource that can help with all these matters is a clock board. Each board features a large analogue clock with moveable minute and hour hands, a white background on which to write the hours and a box where the analogue time can be written as a digital number.

Learning shapes

Understanding shapes is essential for the later study of things like geometry and trigonometry and there are a number of ways schools can introduce shapes in the playground. There are shape-focused playground markings, including the Shapes X 5, which features a circle, square, rectangle, triangle and pentagon, and the fun Shapes and Ladders game.

For increased challenge, there are also tangram tables on which children need to organise smaller geometric shapes in the right places to make a perfect square, and soma cubes, which require 3D blocks of different shapes to be arranged into a complete cube. Both these are great for small group work and require quite a lot of problem-solving to achieve the right outcome.

Coordinate fun

Teaching children to understand coordinates can be done in a fun way by playing the traditional battleships game. AT ESP Play, we’ve now brought this to the playground with the introduction of outdoor battleboards. It’s the same game but done on a large gridded and labelled whiteboard where children can mark their own moves and wipe them away when finished.

Once children have got the basics of coordinates, they can then progress to more challenging problems by using the multi-function coordinates/tessellation board. This enables them to do things like plot graphs and positive and negative coordinates; mirror sketch across different axes; and learn about vectors and tessellation.

Playtime practice

One of the advantages of bringing maths to the playground is that children can use the resources during their free time and if they have attractive and tactile resources at hand, they are more inclined to play with them. As a result, they’ll be perfecting their skills while also having fun with their friends. Some of the useful resources they can use include large outdoor dominos, colour-coded giant matchsticks and the brain-teasing colour puzzle table. More traditional maths-related fun can be had with tabletop and magnetic board games, such as ludo, Connect 4 and Snakes and Ladders.

Conclusion

With a little imagination, you can transform maths teaching and reduce your reliance on those boring and repetitive old textbooks by taking the subject outdoors. The playground is full of opportunities for problem-solving and with the right resources, you can make learning maths a more active and enjoyable experience.

For more details, take a look at our range of outdoor maths resources.

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4 Key Ways Schools Can Use Their Playground to Teach Maths

If you’re looking for exciting ways to teach maths, your school playground is the ideal resource. Outside, pupils have the opportunity to discover numbers, patterns, shapes, sizes, angles, volumes and distances. And, as we’ll show you in this post, there are some fabulous practical activities you can do that will enhance classroom learning and develop skills.

The other advantage of teaching maths outdoors is that it gives children the space and freedom to explore their understanding of key concepts, and this, in turn, inspires and motivates them to make progress. By applying skills in a practical way, you can show children that what they learn in the classroom has relevance in the real world.

So, here are the ways you can use your playground to teach maths outdoors.

social seating

Mathematical Games

Playground markings can be an exceptionally useful resource to help children learn a variety of maths skills through playing games, and some markings are designed with exactly this in mind. By using movement and repetition, children are able to explore numbers, sequences and patterns and remember them better too.  

Traditional playground games, like hopscotch, or giant snakes and ladders, for example, can help young pupils familiarise themselves with basic numbers in easy, practical and fun ways. Target games, where children score points by hitting a target with a ball or bean bag can be used to help with addition.

Playground markings are also ideal for developing your own mathematical games to use in lessons. Take a numbered stepper, for example, and add a dice, and it can be a fun way to practice addition and subtraction. Rather than having to work out the numbers in their heads or using fingers, children can learn by counting the steps they take.  

Another interesting activity can be done simply with a long rope or washing line. Using large groups of pupils, you can ask them to make a range of different shapes. How many children do you need to make an octagon? How many for a rectangle? Can you make a 3d shape? Is it possible to make a circle?

Water & Sand Experiments

Once you have established the best type of playground surfacing for your needs, the next stage of the process is to look at the type of sports your PE curriculum covers. If possible, you should try and dovetail this to match the kinds of sports your pupils will to want to play during breaktimes. Finding common ground here, will enable you to provide facilities which children will get the most benefit from.

After making your decision, you can then select the necessary playground markings to have installed. There is a wide variety to choose from and they are all suitable for the surfaces mentioned above and can also be installed on your existing hard surfaced playground. Here at ESP Play, we can provide the markings for football, futsal (five-a-side football), netball, rounders, basketball, tennis and cricket. For those particularly short of space, it is possible to create a multi-sports area by overlaying markings for different sports using different colours.

These markings enable PE staff to teach these sports whilst letting children have the fun of playing them during break times.

Take advantage of nature

Whether you have a natural nature area or have a range of outdoor nature equipment installed in your playground, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of it for developing your pupils’ maths skills.

One of the things that nature is excellent for is surveys. How many insects of different types can you discover in a bug house? Which areas of the playground collect the most volume of leaves, acorns or sycamore seeds? These activities can be used for learning counting, measuring, frequency and other skills. For example, if you measure by how much a bird feeder gets emptier each day, you can ask the children to work out how many bird feeders will be needed for the next term.

You can also use nature to study patterns, shapes and sizes. Children can do this by collecting leaves, seeds and flowers. They can look at similarities and differences to make Venn diagrams.

If you include outdoor maths activities over a longer period, you can examine how things change over time. How much does a plant grow each week? How much rain falls each day in a half term? How long does it take for all the leaves to fall off different tree types during autumn? Not only will these require the pupils to use counting and comparing skills, they’ll also need to come up with effective ways to record and calculate their findings.

Maths with thrills

If you have a range of active outdoor play equipment installed in your playground, you can take your maths learning to a completely new level. For example, if you have Trim Trails, you can record the time it takes for pupils to complete the obstacle course. From this, you can do more complicated analysis. Can pupils link the height or age of a person to how fast they complete the course? What are the mean, median and mode times? Can pupils work out the speed from the times?    

You can invent similar activities for traversing a climbing wall or coming down a play tower slide. All these activities are great fun to do and involve quite a lot of detailed and even complicated calculation.

Conclusion

Playgrounds offer the ideal environment in which to give pupils the chance to learn maths in practical, active and enjoyable ways. There are many resources you can use, those that are a natural part of your outdoor space, installed playground equipment or even specialised, outdoor maths curriculum resources. If you need assistance in finding the right resources, give us a call on 01282 43 44 45.

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