Homeschooling

Outdoor math in October

My kiddos and I spent the month of October immersed in an outdoor math block. This was the first time I planned a block that really had both my ten-year-old and six-year-old in mind, rather than planning separately for each of them. In fact, I would say the block was more geared toward my six-year-old and it was really nice to switch things up and not have my primary focus on my oldest child.

This was an activity where I put a number in a small basket and he walked around the forest collecting the corresponding number of nature objects. Then we organized them on the picnic table.

For this block I used the Wild Math curriculum. I purchased the kindergarten guide for my six-year-old and the fourth grade guide for my ten-year-old. (This post is not sponsored, by the way, just sharing what we use in our homeschool.)

How I structured the block

I planned to spend every single day outside doing math for three weeks. We were hit by a couple really rainy days (we do live in Portland, OR so that’s to be expected) but for the most part we had a sunny, mild October, which is typical for us here and why I planned the block for October. On those really rainy days we did some fun math activities by the fire, but for the rest of the time we were outside.

When rain was coming down sideways, we did math by the fire.

I planned a mix of bigger excursions to local parks and at other times we went for a neighborhood walk or did math in our backyard. I have a three-year-old so doing a big outing each day just wasn’t realistic for us. I tried to do the biggest outing on Mondays when everybody was fresh and I had the best chance of having time to pack up a hearty lunch the night before.

How I planned for two kids

As I said, this was my first time planning to cover the same subject for two children at very different levels. For many homeschoolers, this is old hat, but it was new for me and took some trial and error. What I ended up doing was looking through each curriculum and choosing what I most wanted to cover for each of my kids. The guides are full of lots of themes and ideas and so I first needed to narrow down what we would focus on. I sketched out how I would pace those activities and skills over the course of the three weeks.

Addition!

Then, I went day-by-day and chose activities that might complement each other. For example, if I knew we would be in the backyard one day, I chose activities from each guide that would be easy to do in our yard. If I knew we would be in a more wild space, I chose activities that matched up well with that. I also tried to make sure that if I was planning an activity that would require my involvement for one kid, I selected something that would be more independent for the other.

This didn’t always work out perfectly and have I mentioned I have a three-year-old? But having a plan helped. The guides do not walk you through week one, week two, etc. so I had to sift through the topics and many activity suggestions and choose what I thought would speak most to my kids.

An example of how I planned a week of activities for my two kids.

Organizing a math basket

One of the most helpful things I did in preparing for this block was to put together a math basket. I kept all of our supplies in the basket and kept it in our mud room, so that it was ready to go every morning. The Wild Math guides go over the idea of preparing an on-the-go math kit, and I thought it would be fun to share what I had in ours:

  • Our kindergarten and fourth grade Wild Math guides.
  • A single piece of paper where I had written down the week’s plan, broken down day-by-day.
  • A clipboard for each child with a pencil attached to the clip with yarn (my youngest was thrilled to have her own clipboard).
  • A blank notebook for each child. We used these to record problems we had worked out with leaves or rocks, etc. and sometimes the kids used them as nature journals.
  • Math practice sheets for my fourth grader. I have Jamie York’s free math facts sheets printed out and bound into a book and my fourth grader does a page a day, so we toted that along with us.
  • Our number board from Treasures From Jennifer for my kindergartner to practice tracing his numbers.
  • These number sense cards, which I had laminated.
  • I also had the number cards from this autumn nature pack laminated.
  • The game Tenzi. There are quite a few activities that suggested dice so having this game was handy.
  • A pencil pouch with colored pencils for writing down problems and drawing nature.
  • Our current read aloud.
Our outdoor math basket

What I learned and what I would do differently next time

First of all, my kids LOVED doing math outdoors with natural objects. I think the biggest takeaway from this block for me, though, is that getting outdoors every single day is challenging. In retrospect, it would have been much more practical for us to plan to do one day a week of outdoor math all year. And in fact we may end up incorporating that. But doing a big chunk of outdoor math is also a wonderful way to take advantage of great weather in the fall or spring. We may set aside outdoor math for now and pick it up again – but weekly – in the spring. Just thinking out loud here. 😉

One logistics point that’s worth making … I found it much easier for us to do math in either a pretty wild space or in our backyard. The one day I tried taking us to our neighborhood park, which has a playground, my kids had way too much fun playing on the playground with other children and I had zero success in reining them in for lessons.

I found that kindergarten math was much easier to take outdoors than fourth grade math. I had a harder time figuring out how to tackle the fourth grade subjects I wanted to cover outside, and as a result the block ended up being almost entirely review for my fourth grader. I was feeling bad about not challenging her until I read this fabulous passage from Julie Bogart in her book The Brave Learner:

“Sometimes, though, we parents fumble the coaching ball. We’re suspicious of too much happiness in learning. Perhaps the lesson is “rigor lite.” I’ve watched families wreck their happily-humming-along homeschools by ditching an effective program simply because their kids found it easy. We lob what I call the “homeschool hand grenade” of a new curriculum into our happy living rooms and wonder why everybody is miserable again.”

“Ripping through the lesson with ease creates the opportunity for a love connection to bloom! Pleasure comes from overcoming struggle: relishing the newfound ability and applying it. Our kids must enjoy proficiency, sometimes for a good long while, before facing a new challenge.”

So while my fourth grader didn’t tackle much new math material in this block, she was enjoying proficiency and that is valuable! Overall, I would say our experience with doing outdoor math was a success. My kids and I really benefited from all the outside time this fall and a lot of the interpersonal struggles we seem to have during lessons at home just weren’t a factor when we were outside. Also, it was awesome to see my kids exploring math with so many different manipulatives and realizing that math is all around us!

2 Replies to “Outdoor math in October”

  1. I just love this idea. Our Midwest fall has turned winter-like quickly, but I’m still thinking something like this could work nicely outside two or three times each week. And I appreciated what you included from the The Brave Learner about the value of proficiency — so true! Thank you so much for sharing the details of your year so far. I enjoyed your local geography unit, too.

    1. Thanks Cathy! I definitely agree that doing outdoor math a couple times a week is do-able. And it doesn’t need to be for a long time! We spent a little bit on math concepts and then I let them loose to play. There are lots of pics in the Wild Math guides of her kids doing math out in the snow. 🙂 I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed what I’ve shared so far this year!

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