As 2016 begins, I am looking back on 2015 and some of the issues I have been asked to address time and again. One such issue is that of mathematics in the outdoor environment. A common myth in Early Years seems to be that maths cannot possibly happen outdoors without laminated ( or plastic) numberlines and that their sole existance ensures maths undertstanding will definately happen! Sorry to be a myth buster but this is NOT the case (despite what some advisors will have you believe). Here I hope to show that maths outdoors is a whole lot more than any manufactured numberline and to save you the tedium of having to laminate to within an inch of your life! Happy New Year !!!
Outdoor learning is a truly amazing part of early years development. It offers experiences just not reproducable indoors. A unique opportunity to observe and interact with all that nature and the seasons can offer. An ever changing experience of the world around us and, by its very nature, a fantastic way to experience many mathematical concepts first hand as part of our ongoing play provision.
As with indoor learning, I believe whole heartedly, that you should concentrate on planning your environment to enable open ended learning and exploration, rather than specific activities. Although additional resources can then be added as an extension of childrens ongoing enquiry.
Hence, a great outdoor learning environment should be rich in open ended resources, many of which will be unique to outdoors. Pine cones, pebbles, shells, sticks, leaves, log slices etc all offer an array of possibilities and won't break the bank. In this case more is definately more! The more you have the more learning you will see!
Loose parts offer loads of opportunities for discussion and exploration of size, number, and weight. Sticks of different sizes can be counted, measured, matched and sorted. They can be used to measure or put together to make numerals and shapes. Buckets or flower pots of different sizes can give first hand experience of volume, capacity (full, empty, one more etc) when explored as part of sand, water or mud kitchen play. But by leaving a wide range of equipment for children to use as they wish you are much more likely to find a child applying their understanding of early maths as part of their chosen play rather than trying to draw children to an adult planned activity outside of their "in the moment thinking".
Good outdoor maths provision in Early Years calls for sensitive adult support and intervention. Do you and your staff know when you are looking at measuring ? Are you sure you can see when there are opportunities for counting and matching and do you make the most of actively supporting children as they make patterns and problem solve? And when you "do" spot these opportunities as children play and explore do you sensitively support their play with open ended, non confrontational questions?
I can't cover all areas of outdoor maths in just this short blog ( I can see a series of more specific blogs taking shape as i type!) but you ensure that your environment is open ended and well resources much of the maths exploration will come as part of the children's play. Look for opportunities to talk about big, bigger and biggest.... see if you can count how many jumps or skips or steps....and how about building some patterns with the bricks or the shells you have there?
Oh and if you really feel you do need a numberline then make sure it fits in with your outdoor environment. Make it unique to outdoors (metal or wooden numbers) or even add it to your open ended outdoor resources. I love using flowerpots of all colours and sizes - put some numbers on upside down to encourage building with the pots as wells as filling.
So as we go into this wet, windy new year lets concentrate on gathering what nature has given us for free and instead of lamenting over the laminator.
Up coming blogs will include "Mud Kitchen Maths" and " Count on me outdoors" and " Treasure to Measure"