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Outside Math

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I'm a big fan of taking math off of papers and into the world, especially when we are young and math is easily manipulated. There are plenty of rainy days and days when I am distracted and we grab a worksheets and do some paper math.

But last week we didn't want to go inside. We planted peas and ate lunch on the lawn. I knew we needed some math game and I idly flipped through my kindergarten book from Everyday Math. I figured we'd play outside until I had found a good game for us and then we would head in to the table.


I found a number line game and realized that we could play outside and get both ages engaged in math play.

I drew a big, 10 space number line (game board) with the last vestiges of sidewalk chalk I managed to find. Sister-Bug was the “mover”, I was the “die” (we could have used a real die but to start I wanted to call out the moves), Brother-Bug was the “player”, telling the mover where to go.

Sister-Bug started on 0. I asked Brother-Bug to add 3 and tell her where to go. We did this for about 20 minutes. I would ask Brother-Bug to add or subtract, he would work it out, and we would both help Sister-Bug identify the number she needed to move to.

Sister-Bug got a good dose of her math work right now – touch counting and identifying numbers.

Brother-Bug got plenty of work in basic addition and subtraction.


Everyone got plenty of fresh air and sunshine (yes, Sister-Bug is doing her schoolwork in her undies) and while they knew it was a math game, it was much more fun than sitting around “doing math work” at the table. They got their bodies into it. Afterward we played hopscotch (more outside math!).

We can keep making the game board longer and changing up the rules as we grow and learn. We can use dice, all forms of arithmetic, have races, goodness knows what all will occur to us.

How could we add or subtract to our game? What would you do to change it up?



2 responses »

  1. My geometry teacher in high school told us a story about how she taught her kindergarden/preschool aged grandchildren basic algebra in a sneaky way and the story has always stuck with me. She would draw a “bag of marbles” which started off looking like a basic fish pointed/swimming down the page (like a teardrop with a triangle (upside down pyramid) on top). She’d draw, lets say, 5 marbles in the bag, and write + 3 = 8 next to it. The children could count the marbles and understand that there were 5 in the bag, and after a quick briefing, get that the number “3” represented three more marbles, which when added to the five totaled eight marbles.

    After a while, she started switching it up and not drawing marbles in the bag. The kids had to figure out how many marbles were in there to equal the end number.

    She gradually decreased the bag she drew, starting with the line at the top (the base of the upside down pyramid), then making the teardrop part smaller and smaller, and then eventually not swooping the pen to make the teardrop and instead to make just an X.

    Long story short, her daughter came home to find her young kids solving “X – 7 = 2” and just about peed herself. It seems clever.


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