Discovering Math in Nature Through Patterns, Shapes, Natural Materials and More…

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International Primary Teacher and Outdoor Learning Specialist, with over ten years experience. I hold an MSc in Outdoor Education and PGDE in Primary Education.

Venture outside the classroom and into the natural world where mathematics isn’t just numbers on paper but a visible part of our environment. This blog will explore learning math outside through finding patterns in nature, using scavenger hunts to enhance learning, using natural materials for number work and revealing how symmetry and shapes manifest in everything from the different mini beasts discovered in the playground to the pine cones and leaves scattered on the ground. Engaging with outdoor maths activities encourages students to learn these maths firsthand and utilise outdoor maths resources to create a hands-on learning experience. It’s an opportunity to connect with nature while nurturing a love and understanding of math in the world around us.


KS1 learner uses natural materials to demonstrate their understanding of place value.


The Benefits of Outdoor Math Activities

The benefits of learning maths in nature are not to be overlooked. Children who regularly play outside often have opportunities to engage in physical activity, which can improve attention span while helping the child regulate their mood (Burdette, H. L., & Whitaker, R. C. 2005).

Within the context of my work, I teach children with ADHD. While observing children with ADHD, I have noticed that they find it easier to focus when completing tasks outside the classroom. Natural environments are reported to be an effective learning environment for students who experience overstimulation. Open spaces offer children with ADHD a calmer working environment (Harris, 2017).

Outdoor math activities also allow children to discover unintended learning outcomes. For example, when learning place value with leaves, a child may also learn about the tree it comes from and the seeds it produces. Kelly (2009) believed that when facilitating learning, there should be a balance between the intended, planned, and lived curriculum. A curriculum outcome may not have to be the catalyst for the learning experience.

 When done correctly, outdoor maths can also be implemented informally through outdoor play. Educators can do this by asking open questions and prompting mathematical skills as children naturally, such as counting the number of participants that need to be in each team during a self-led game or drawing attention to the shapes they have used when constructing a den (Santer and Griffith, 2007). When learning about math outdoors, children don’t just solve problems. They find problems to solve, which compounds the benefits even more. Answering questions that children may come up with when playing outdoors also helps them see math as a tool that aids them in solving real-world problems.


Utilising Outdoor Math Resources

Outdoor maths resources are abundant if you know where to look: stones, sticks, chestnuts and leaves. These are nature’s 100 bases and counters. The benefit of using natural materials for learning is that they offer a sensory experience for children, which plastic resources can not replace.

Using nature materials allows children to connect emotionally with the lesson by touching, feeling and smelling (Sami et al., 2016). Maria Montessori concluded that children learn through their senses first and then intellect afterwards. (Pound, 2006) Montessori also highlighted that children learn from using their hands at a young age.

A further benefit of utilising natural materials for learning is that it helps children generate questions about the natural environment around them while learning maths.

It is also important to note that chalk is also a fantastic resource for outdoor maths activities. Some of my more successful lessons have involved using chalk.


Leaners loved using a hopscotch calculator to create multiplication and division problems for their partners.


Using a chalkboard in the playground to provide daily maths problems was a successful initiative that was simple to implement.


Identifying Math Patterns and Shapes in Nature

Maths patterns in nature are everywhere. A great example of how mathematical concepts exist in nature is symmetry. This is found in abundance when outdoors. Snowflakes have radial symmetry, with identical patterns on each arm. Each snowflake is different when it falls from the sky and experiences other atmospheric conditions. This can include wind and humidity, ultimately determining how the snowflake forms. Honeycomb is another example of symmetry. Bees are believed to build honeycombs in a hexagonal format, allowing them to store the greatest amount of honey using the least amount of wax. Orb spiders also build their webs using radial symmetry.

Children who submerse themselves into the interactive nature of the landscape, as a playscape, often have increased motor skills. The benefits are especially prominent when playing in a natural environment, such as a forest, over a surface playground (Fjortoft, I. 2004). If you want to utilise outdoor maths activities, look below.


Recording Shape and Symmetry Learning

The Book Creator app is an enjoyable and effective tool for children to capture and document various patterns and shapes found outside. The voice recording feature is particularly helpful for learners who are learning English as an additional language. I have also conducted lessons where students document diverse angles in nature.


A learner discovers and takes pictures of different 2D and 3D shapes in the playground and uses the voice record feature to explain the properties of each shape.


Below  example of how children can record their mathematical discoveries.


A KS1 learner used a simple folded A4 paper to record four examples of symmetry in the local park.


Connecting Outdoor and Classroom Math Learning

I believe it is crucial to integrate outdoor learning activities with classroom learning. Additionally, some learners benefit from completing a soothing indoor task following an active outdoor lesson.


KS1 learners use magnified bug pots to study the symmetry of different local insects.


The KS1 learner completed a math classroom activity related to the insect hunt, which he had completed earlier.


Measurement Activities Outdoors

There are many ways to explore measurement outside, from measurement scavenger hunts to making clockfaces with sticks and drawing areas and using chalk to mark areas and perimeters on the playground floor.

When teaching capacity and volume lessons, outdoor classrooms allow children to participate without fear of spilling on the classroom floor.


A KS2 learner is participating in a measurement scavenger hunt in the local park.


By mixing 3d shape design, natural materials and measurement with trundle wheels, ks2 learners had a fantastic time firing and measuring how far their projectiles travelled in the playground.


With a stopwatch, the learner measures how long it takes to do different exercises in the playground.


I offered a more challenging stopwatch measurement task to the more confident learners. I challenged them to round their stopwatch times to the nearest tenth and second.


Math Scavenger Hunts 

I enjoy utilising scavenger hunts to conduct math lessons in an outdoor setting. It’s a simple process to organize as I can take the mundane worksheets and textbook problems and make them more engaging for learners by transforming them into task cards and scattering them throughout a forest, park, or playground.


An early-year learner counts the number of dots on the task card and uses the picture reference to help them find where to add their answer.


Using Natural Materials for Algebra, Place Value, Ratios, Number Problems and Fractions

There are many ways to use natural materials as maths outdoor learning tools. Here are a few examples below.


KS2 learners use old bike tyres, chalk and bark chips to find the fractions of amounts.


Ks1 learners use leaves to make eight groups of four to find the answer to 8 x 4.


Early years learners are learning to add one-digit numbers with the help of leaves.


KS2 learners are learning about ratios by going to a local forest.



KS2 children use natural materials to support and extend their classroom learning topics: sequences, place value with decimal points and algebraic equations.


Useful Links

I often use the Teach Active website as it has many fun, active math games with the resources already made. They are also linked to our White Rose math curricular outcomes, making finding relevant lessons related to classroom learning easy.

I hope you found the blog helpful. Please get in touch with me if you would like to discuss outdoor maths activities in greater detail.


Related Posts

What Is Outdoor Learning?

Helping Childrens’ Wellbeing with Outdoor Learning

The Importance of Outdoor Play

Linking Outdoor Learning to the Curriculum

Simple and Fun Science Taught Outdoors


Reference List

Burdette, H. L., & Whitaker, R. C. (2005). Resurrecting free play in young children: looking beyond fitness and fatness to attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine159(1), 46-50.

Fjortoft, I. (2004). Landscape as playscape: The effects of natural environments on children’s play and motor development. Child Youth Environments, 14(2), 21–44.

Harris, F. (2017). The nature of learning at forest school: practitioners’ perspectives. Education 3-13, 45(2), 272–291.

Kelly, A.V. (2009). The curriculum: Theory and practice. Sage.

Pound, L. (2006). How Children Learn: Practical Pre School Books. MA Education Ltd.

Salmi, H., Kaasinen, A. and Suomela, L. (2016). Teacher professional development in outdoor and open learning environments: A Research Based Model. CreativeEducation, 07(10), 1392–1403.

Santer, J. and Griffiths, C. (2007). Free play in early childhood: A literature review. National Children’s Bureau.