With current events happening in the world right now, you may be homeschooling. How can you make standard school subjects, like math, more enjoyable, especially when your child seems to always be suffering from never-ending boredom? The answer is to think outside the box. Better yet, just think outside.
Tying Math into Nature
Gardening is a great outdoor activity many adults enjoy in a number of different ways. It’s only logical to think the kiddos would enjoy it as well. Most don’t realize it but there are actually several ways to incorporate major school subjects into gardening. One of those subjects is math.
When math comes to mind, we normally think about long, drawn out and complicated equations. However, math in the garden can be as simple as counting, sorting, graphing, and measuring. A variety of garden activities allow parents to provide these opportunities to their children.
Adapting for Age When Homeschooling in Gardens
Any activity you do should be adjusted to fit the needs and age of the child that will be participating. Younger children will need more assistance, easy to complete tasks, and simple one to two step directions to follow, possibly even repeated or with the use of a picture guide as an aide.
Older children can do more with less assistance. They can handle more complex directions and be asked to do more in-depth problem solving. Maybe your child has been given a work packet of math problems to work on from their school. You can even use these for tying math into nature.
Reword or take ideas from the problems in the packet, replacing with things that tie into the gardening world or try giving your child a visual representation of a particular problem using props from the garden.
Ideas for Math in the Garden
Counting can be done with all ages, from the youngest child first learning numbers to the oldest curious to see how high they can count. You can even count by fives, tens, and so forth. Send youngsters out to collect items such as rocks, leaves, or even bugs and count with them – how many they found or simply walk through the garden and count the number of flowers or budding fruits and veggies you see.
Shapes are another math concept that the little ones can be introduced to by using the garden. Try to identify shapes in the garden such as flower beds, garden tools, or rocks. Help the children find a shape or show them what a shape looks like and how the real life object resembles the shape, then have them try to recall the number of shapes you found or where they found them.
Another idea is to collect sticks and create bundles of ten using rubber bands or twist ties. These can be used to count and group. Have children use these to come up with particular numbers such as using the bundles to create 33 sticks or use them to solve math problems.
Using a ruler, collect leaves and twigs of various sizes. Measure your findings and then arrange them in ways like shortest to longest. You can also use the ruler to measure other things in the garden, like the dimensions of a flower/garden bed to calculate the area or how tall certain plants are.
Additional Mathematical Garden Activities
Need some more inspiration? The following mathematical garden activities can help:
Take a walk through the garden and have your child record their findings in a journal or notepad. This can include things like number of blue flowers, budding plants, types of or favorite flowers, or insects seen.
Create a graph using the data to show the findings. Ask your child questions like “how many blue flowers did we see?” or “how many types of insects were found, what were they?” Allow them to refer back to their ‘data’ to find their answers.
Another way to use graphing is to create a Venn diagram. Collect two samples of an item found in nature such as two different leaves or flowers. Have the children compare them by writing the differences and placing the samples in each circle. Similarities will go in the middle, where the two circles overlap. This can even be done outside using sidewalk chalk.
Math by Planting
Every gardener has planted seeds at some point. Chances are at least one of those times was from a seed packet. I bet you didn’t realize this can also be used as a math lesson. That’s right, these little seed packets usually have numbers on them. From counting seeds, measuring soil and seed depth, or simply measuring the distance between seeds for planting— you are using math.
As plants emerge, children can measure their growth and chart the development over time. Another way to use measurements in the garden is measuring the amount of water a particular plant might need.
Math is all around us in the world, even when we don’t realize it. Although you may not be doing AP chemistry or attempting to solve some of the world’s toughest math equations, you are still able to expand and build on your child’s math skills by simple gardening and other outdoor nature activities.
Gardening Activities for Toddlers
I love all of these gardening activities for toddlers. If you're looking for a fun outdoor Spring activity for toddlers then get out into the garden and give these a try.
Garden Activities Math & Literacy Bundle (Distance Learning)
Products in this Bundle (4)
Great for your garden unit, plant theme or distance learning. Includes emergent reader, with cut and paste version, write the room posters and activities, garden themed math worksheets, and seed packets craft. Garden unit fun!
All these products are included in this download.
Just added. Seed Packets Craftivity 16 different packets includes color and blkw
*Check Them Out Here*
Emergent Reader and Class Book.
This download includes two books, ten pages each. The first one is a cut and paste emergent reader in black and white. Your students can have fun, coloring, cutting, and pasting the pictures that complete each page. The second book with it's colorful pages can be read to the class or can be added to your library for independent reading. These books practice the phrases I have, I can, I like, I see and look at. There are two copies on each page so you can just cut and staple.
Garden Patch Math Worksheets.
This download includes 20 Garden Themed math worksheets. The first ten include, Add the Vegetables, Subtract the Vegetables,, Word Problems, Classify and Count the Garden, Positions, Count and Color the Flowers, Count and Color the Vegetables, and Compare the Garden. The next 10 pages are a Garden Mix of problems.
Garden Themed Posters and Writing Activities.
This down load includes 10 posters with garden words, in both full size and mini and four writing activities, ( find and write the word, word search, fill in the missing word and fill in the missing letter.) Print posters on card stock and or laminate. Great to leave up for decoration during a garden unit.
Please take moment to let me know what you think!
Snack time can be fun during this theme. You can let the students choose what veggies they want in their own salad, or just serve different fruits and veggies and create graphs of who likes what. This is also a great time to let them try different kinds of veggie dips and dressings while eating the fresh veggies.
Of course, you can set up the graph with veggie cutouts and write the children’s names on the cutout they like and then attach the cutouts to a board. Or, you can just write their names next to the words of fruits and veggies they like.
Urban Oasis: The Fifth Avenue Garden
Democrats Are Failing the Schools Test
For a half-hour every week, each of Los Cerritos’s classes mill around the rows of produce in various stages of growth. Dianne Swanson, a kindergarten teacher, started the garden with four beds in 2000, five years after State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin announced her hope that every California school would have a garden. Today a few thousand California schools have gardens, by some estimates.
Los Cerritos’s school garden now includes 22 raised beds for more than 35 types of fruit, a small fruit orchard, and various plants that are both drought-resistant and native to California. Grants and awards from private entities, totaling more than $40,000, have helped the Urban Farmyard at Los Cerritos thrive. And the PTA fundraised to hire Brimley as garden coordinator to teach garden instruction four days per week.
Los Cerritos teachers use the Urban Farmyard to teach math, science, history, and language arts—all, unsurprisingly, with an environmental bent.
“They figure out the ratio of fertilizer to soil,” Swanson said. “They do taste tests on different fruits and vegetables and graph the results with a bar or line graph. They also do data collection by measuring worms.”
Visits to the Urban Farmyard have also introduced children to scientific concepts —the food chain, photosynthesis, the ecosystem—and even history.
“I’ve done social-studies units on Native Americans and colonists,” Swanson said. “We’ve planted the crops that they used for dye. We grew wheat, harvested it, and threshed it. We had to do it all by hand.”
Such experience-based lessons are also said to line up with Common Core State Standards, which emphasize real-world skills. Brimley’s estimation lesson, for example, meets the math standards, which dictate that beginning in first grade, students should develop an understanding of measurement and how to represent and interpret data.
Time in the Urban Farmyard has become one of first-grader Audrina Sanchez’s favorite activities at school, offering a new environment and sensory experience. “I like learning about math outside because you get to hear more noises and sounds,” she said.
Carol Hillhouse, the director of the school gardening program at University of California, Davis, said children benefit from learning in an environment that engages them on both a mental and sensory level. This may especially benefit children who struggle to focus in traditional classrooms because of Attention Deficit Disorder or hyperactivity, she added.
“You may be doing estimation and learning those mathematical concepts in the garden, but then there’s the smells, there’s the sounds,” Hillhouse said. “There’s a kid having a side conversation. All of those other things may be happening at the same time, and for some of us this is great. We can actually be taking in a number of things while doing estimation.”
The Los Cerritos Elementary garden serves an array of community purposes as well. The school divvies up the harvest among needy families and members of a community agriculture program. Teachers and students sample the fruits and vegetables as they work, sometimes cooking full dishes or making smoothies. These activities require kids to draw on their math skills, and for some, it’s novel exposure to genuinely healthful food.
Judy Culbertson, executive director of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, said some educators have raised questions about school gardens. The organization provides teachers with free resources, such as books, guides, and grants to develop agriculture-centered lessons. But even with these materials, not all schools are capable of launching a full-fledged garden curriculum.
“We have schools that are concrete and don’t have space to plant the garden,” Culbertson said. “A lot of those schools will plant a garden in a wheelbarrow and roll [it] in and out of the sun every day. We support these creative ideas that help more students understand how food is grown.”
And starting a garden—maintaining and hiring personnel to teach agriculture-based lessons—can be cost prohibitive for schools.
Many lack the financial resources to hire a full-time garden coordinator like Brimley. A 2014 survey by Life Lab, an organization that promotes agriculture-based instruction, found that most California schools receive garden budgets of under $2,500.
The poll included 558 California schools and found that 20.2 percent of garden budgets are under $500 11.1 percent are between $1,000 to $2,500 and 10.5 percent are between $500 and $1000. Almost 15 percent of schools reported no garden budget at all.
“School gardens can be a powerful way for children to learn, but we haven’t equated that knowledge with consistent support for school garden educators and school-garden sites,” Hillhouse said. “Just like a library needs resources and paid staff, so does a school garden.”
The 476 Life Lab poll respondents with active gardens all agreed they had benefited students: 29.6 percent said students improved academically, 57.6 percent said attitudes about school improved and 63.9 percent said social skills improved.
It’s that last stat that seems to hold much of the romantic appeal of school gardens for proponents.
“Plants grow and develop at their own pace and require our care, which certainly reinforces some of our best human instincts of empathy and stewardship,” Hillhouse said. “These are extremely useful life skills … that children may not be getting these days at home or in other parts of their lives.”
Young children strive to understand the world around them. Outdoors, they can spend hours engaged in rich, imaginative play using nothing more than the natural materials they find. How many times have you emptied treasures from the pockets of a preschooler? Pebbles, pinecones, feathers, and leaves are wondrous and hold so much potential for math and science inquiry!
The great outdoors is filled with rich opportunities for math learning—with a connection to science—that can interest and engage children in real-life problem solving. Children need to spend large blocks of time playing outside—classes in our program spend at least one hour outdoors every day. It’s amazing to see how children’s mathematical explorations and scientific observations outdoors inspire our indoor learning. We once spent several weeks examining the characteristics of the plants and trees around our school! The children’s initial interest in trees sparked hours of reading, researching, drawing, sculpting, and dramatizing different forest adventures. Outdoor exploration also complements emergent math—and science, too.
Here are some suggestions for integrating learning opportunities into play in natural spaces and for connecting outdoor explorations to children’s learning. Get ready to look at the outdoor world through a mathematical lens, with an eye for science!
Rethink your surroundings
The design and contents of the outdoor play space are important. When children have access to different found and recycled objects, including logs cut from fallen trees (tree stumps), tires, and large stones, their imaginations guide activities. Allow children to control the direction of their play while engaging in big body movement. Complex learning occurs through children’s authentic planning and problem solving. They can line up tree stumps by size to make stair steps, roll them into certain locations to define a space, use them as platforms to jump from, and arrange them with stones and tires to create an obstacle course.
Include areas that contain sand, water, pea stone gravel, and other sensory materials. Place old tables outside to give children plenty of working space. Add tools such as tubing, buckets, shovels, pots, measuring cups, and spoons to encourage children to use math when talking about their actions and making plans for collaborative play. Engage children in math conversations as they use the materials to explore quantity and movement. Have children dictate recipes for mud stew, discuss measuring ingredients for leaf salad, or buy supplies from the “store.”
Use math tools outdoors
Many outdoor play areas have traditional vehicles and toys, like tricycles, wagons, trucks, and balls. Adding math tools encourages children to play in unexpected and more complex ways. Offer laminated ten frames, sorting trays, recycled checkerboards, hoops, and number lines. Teachers can scaffold activities as children incorporate the tools into their play. Loose natural materials, like stones and acorns, can be placed on ten frames to encourage counting flowers can be organized on sorting trays by color and size and sticks can be counted using a number line. Use chalk to draw a large hundreds grid on the pavement, or add natural loose parts along with dice or spinners to a checkerboard to inspire children to create number games together.
Be responsive to children’s observations and wonderings
When playing with children, pay attention to their comments about the outdoor space. I note the questions children have (“How big is this tree?,” “How fast can you run?,” “Why are all those birds flying together?”) and then encourage and support their emergent projects. For example, we bring a tablet outside so the children can document and photograph events they observe, like the leaves changing colors and the geese migrating south for the winter, and then share their observations during whole group conversations.
Teachers can clarify children’s questions and then help them plan an investigation to discover answers. Resources such as books and websites provide background knowledge and introduce appropriate math and science tools and vocabulary. Children see firsthand why math is important when they observe authentic purposes for it in their world. Vocabulary and traditional problem solving have more meaning when they’re applied to real situations.
When the children in my classroom were curious about the large trees in our playground, we practiced using standard tools (measuring tape) and nonstandard tools (connecting links) to measure the trunks. The children learned and remembered the word circumference—the distance around something—because it mattered to them in that moment. That day, I hadn’t intended to do a measurement activity with the children. But because I was responsive to their interests, we experienced a rich mathematical exploration that incorporated many learning standards.
Explore and sort collections
Encouraging children to keep collections of natural materials—like feathers, shells, or seed pods—is an easy way to integrate math and science into outdoor play. Children can identify common characteristics, like size, color, and shape, and then use sorting rules to group items. Children can also bring materials indoors for in-depth exploration and play. We keep collections in the various centers in our classroom so that the children can incorporate them into their daily activities. The objects can be added to geometric designs at the art table, placed on the light table for patterning, or examined with a magnifying glass in the science center. We encourage families to search their yards and neighborhoods for more materials, adding variety to what has already been gathered at school.
Patterns are everywhere in nature! From the unique markings on animals to the cycle of the changing seasons, there are many ways children observe and document repetition in our world. Natural patterns can be complex, requiring children to think abstractly and interpret their surroundings in different ways. When a child observes the seasonal stages of leaf growth on a tree, there are many possibilities to connect their observations to math, science, and literacy. Unlike more common activities for patterning that might have only a few correct answers (coloring in boxes on a worksheet, beading on a string), exploring natural patterns encourages children to think deeply about what they are observing. Why does the pattern occur? Will the pattern change in any way? How does the pattern affect other parts of the natural world?
Some patterns are more difficult to identify, and because the outdoor play area offers different experiences each day (depending on the weather, human interactions, and animal visitors), there are always new things to discover, interpret, and talk about.
Children can look closely at patterns by using tools like magnifying glasses and microscopes to examine rocks, leaves, and spiderwebs. In our classroom, the children took digital photos to create books about patterns they found in nature. They also copied and extended these patterns in their artwork (using pastels to draw what they saw outside and using loose parts to build the patterns). They communicated new understanding by blogging and tweeting with others about their nature-inspired math work. The children enjoyed connecting with other classes from around the country.