Encouraging Outdoor Math Fun

Encouraging Outdoor Math Fun

While we often think of children’s math as counting, adding and subtracting, there are many more ways that young children can make mathematical connections. Believe it or not, helping your child begin to understand math concepts can take place anywhere — whether it be the car, the kitchen or the grocery store.

As a parent, you can include “math talk” (asking questions or pointing out math-related concepts) into every conversation. I remember visiting the park on a hot day with my children when they were preschoolers, and they started complaining about the heat. So we compared seasons, describing winter as “not as hot” and “colder than fall” while also exploring the difference between “cool” and “cold.” This discussion about temperature incorporated important measurement concepts — and they didn’t even realize they were learning!

Below are a few opportunities to incorporate simple math activities while you’re out and about with your child.

At the playground:

  • Recognize/discuss the shapes within play structures (the tunnel is a cylinder, the roofline over the slide is a pyramid, etc.) and encourage your child to explain the differences in those shapes.
  • Compare the heights of the slides or climbing structures.
  • Make comparisons related to time. (Let’s run quickly to the end of the playground; let’s crawl slowly through the tunnel; let’s see who can run the fastest from the slide to the swings.)

In the car/walking around town:

  • Identify the shapes on traffic signs or lights.
  • Describe the direction you’re heading (left or right) or have your child think about the fastest (and safest) way to get from one side of the street to the other.
  • Count all of the yellow cars you see or compare the number of red cars to blue cars (or minivans to trucks).
  • Identify any repeating patterns among cars or trucks, buildings or the clothes people are wearing.

Mother with daughter in mart

At the grocery store:

  • Count aloud with your child: Five bananas in this bunch. Six cups of yogurt in a pack. Two boxes of cereal in your cart.
  • Ask your child to find the least expensive brand of a particular item or look for sale stickers.
  • Discuss the way items are sorted in the store. (Why do they put the milk and eggs in the same section? How are the fruits organized in the produce section?)
  • Help your child think about weight comparisons. (What does a pound of string beans feel like compared to half a pound? How heavy is a gallon of milk compared to a quart?)

At the library:

  • Explore how the books are organized on the shelves. (Are there certain areas just for children in the library? Are certain topics clustered together?)
  • While reading a book together, count the items you see on each page and make comparisons regarding objects.
  • Limit the number of books that your child can take home from the library and count the books she selects with that limit in mind.

For more on teaching math through play, check out:


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