How to Do Outdoor Math Through Play

Jul 02, 2022

When I opened an in-person nature-based homeschool program for the residential and local multi-age kids at Heathcote Intentional Community in Freeland, Maryland back in 2010, we spent HOURS per program day outdoors.

CLICK HERE and check out the video today entitled, How To Do Math Outdoors With Play.

Granted, it was super easy and enticing to be out in nature on 112 acres in a beautiful wooded valley complete with a lazy bubbling stream meandering through the community.

Heathcote Art & Science Homeschools students taking off for a hike into the wilds of the Heathcote forest. Fall 2010.

We were out there in all manner of weather including the rain. We simply dressed well for whatever outdoor occasion we were bent on.

We could just open the door of the old grain mill where our learning center was, and there we were surrounded by this gorgeous farmland dotted with cute little houses, gardens, the Heathcote stream, tall trees, flowers, and oh, we had a pond! It was truly paradise. I never worked in a more beautiful rural setting.

On one particular day in early spring of 2011, it was rainy and all five us happened to all have blue raincoats. We put them on before emerging outdoors and walked in the rain along the stream path to a special fort area. I jokingly called us “the Blue Crew.” The kids got a kick out of that.

Together the children and I created a lean-to fort beside the stream. It was in a beautiful private, quiet, forested area. We spent hours creating natural paints from the soil and plant matter. It was early spring and the weather was quite agreeable. Ursa, one of my students, created letters and numbers using rocks and trees. She created the letter C out of leaves and rocks.

Ursa’s Andy Goldsworthy letter C.

Fast forward a decade. Here I am just today alone in the desert with my dog Rochelle living out of a campervan in the middle of the Mohave desert in the Eastern Sierra, CA. Today, I had an epiphany. I was going to jump outside of my van (okay, no, I actually stepped lightly outside of it) and write numbers in the desert’s sandy soil.

Here’s my creation in the Mohave desert’s sandy soil.

So, I did!

I noticed what an interesting calming effect it had on me to put my bare pointer finger into the soil and create numbers. Want to see the video of it?

CLICK HERE and check out the video today entitled, How To Do Math Outdoors With Play.

I wrote with my right pointer finger, 1, 2, 3. Then, on the fly, without planning exactly what I was going to do, I picked up some granite rocks nearby and created the numbers, 4, 5, and 6. Next, I looked around the area and found a long stick, about 2 feet in length that had clear line segments in it. It was perfect for practicing counting, but, I had to be careful less the loose bark segments fall off the stick before I had the chance to count them.

These are examples of how you can inspire your kids to “play with math” in nature. Simply demonstrate to them the way I show you in the video and they’ll be off finding a thousand other connections that have to do with their natural environment and math.

Try out some outdoor math together with your kiddos! Don't be afraid to get some dirt under your fingernails.

Gloria Brooks