17 outdoor math activities for preschoolers. Encourage an early love of math with teacher-designed games to teach mathematical concepts.
In my life as a teacher, I was always trying to encourage my students to problem-solve or add an educational value to any games we played.
This wasn’t just in my classroom, but during time spent with my nephews and friends’ children too!
Combine this with being outdoors or in the garden, where children can be free to roam and explore, with a plethora of natural apparatus and stimulus to inspire them.
Your possibilities are virtually endless.
Having a teaching background has obviously made it easier for me to bring math activities into any play with little ones. But you can too, with little to no equipment needed!
It’s more about a mindset and a questioning brain that can twist any activity into one that involves learning. And most of the time your child won’t even know that what they are doing is educational! They’ll just be having busy fun!
Any learning you do with your toddlers is beneficial and will put them in a great place for when they begin preschool or kindergarten. In fact, most of these math activities can be tailored and adapted to such children into kindergarten, first grade and beyond, too!
As well as activities to practice math, I’ve also included ideas to extend the learning through questioning and adapting the math games too.
Plus I’ve split the activities for kids up by the mathematical concept that will be practiced for each one (for some there will be an overlap)!
Let nature and the outdoors be your classroom, teaching early math education to help your child get school (or preschool) ready.
Outdoor Activities to Learn Counting with One-to-One Correspondence
Counting is great, and a lot of parents are always very proud when their children can count to 10 (or higher!).
But once your child knows the words, it’s important for them to use the words in relation to their numerical meaning. Otherwise, it’s just like reciting a song (and the words have no actual meaning to them).
This is called one-to-one correspondence.
It’s what happens when your child counts and recognizes one object per number – counting while pointing – and it can be a lot trickier that you’d expect, and done in plenty of different ways!
Here are 5 outdoor math activities and math games to help your kids practice one-to-one correspondence.
Head Out on a Counting Nature Walk
There are so many things you can count outdoors: leaves, stones, jumps in puddles…. You literally have endless options!
Use a walk in the garden, forest, or even your neighborhood to encourage counting. Anywhere outdoors will work for to get active and practice their maths!
Keep the learning fun by switching between different activities, using both concrete items and abstract ideas.
- Counting how many leaves you collect or pinecones you can spot (counting concrete items).
- Guessing and then testing how many bunny hops it will take to reach the next tree (relating to abstract ideas).
As the adult, you can model counting objects in a random layout and showing the result is always the same as long as each object is only counted once.
For example, take a set of three leaves and count them in a line, pointing to each as you say one, two, three.
Then mix them up into a random order or make them into pile and count them. Will there still be three?
While this is obvious to adults, activities like this help kids understand the one-to-one correspondence of numbers!
Lead an Outdoor Math Scavenger Hunt
Host a scavenger hunt while on your walk, or picnic in the park.
However, rather than just sending your children to find random things as with an outdoor bingo game, add a number quantifier to make it trickier.
Some ideas of what to ask them to find or collect:
- 3 yellow leaves
- 5 stones
- 2 pinecones
- 4 worms
You can also combine quantifiers and objects with shapes and measuring/comparing skills.
Asking them to find 3 leaves that are bigger than their hand. Or 2 sticks shorter than their leg. Or 3 pinecones, 1 each in small, medium, and large.
All of this counting will become second nature, and by the time they go to preschool, they’ll be skilled up!
Have a Game of What Time is It, Mr. Wolf?
If its been awhile since you played this game, I’m going to let you in on a secret: this old classic doesn’t actually have much to do with telling time (although it does get kids used to the o’clock expression!).
Here’s how to play:
- One person is the wolf (take turns being the wold with your child or children).
- Whoever isn’t the wolf asks, “What time is it, Mr. Wolf?”
- The wolf replies with an “o’clock number” (anywhere from 1 o’clock to 12 o’clock)
- The non-wolf children take however many of steps that correspond to the time the wolf said (eg. 1 o’clock equals 1 step)
- Occasionally the wolf can choose for it to be ‘dinner time!’ and cause lots of giggles as they chase everyone back to the start!
This outdoor math game can be played with zero equipment, any place, any time!
There are lots of songs to encourage counting and math, and preschool kids love singing!
Find some favorites, such as 5 little frogs, 5 little ducks, or 10 green bottles, and act them out to make them more fun.
For 10 Green Bottles, for example, set 10 green (non-breakable) bottles on a wall, and knock them over (or even use a Nerf gun!), counting and singing as you do.
You can help your child develop a further understanding of the math and numbers by asking questions:
- When one more frog jumps in, how many will there be in the pool altogether?
- When one bottle accidentally falls, how many are left on the wall?
Human-Sized Board Game
Have hours of fun drawing out a life size board game with chalk on the driveway or in the yard.
Use your imagination, but just make sure there are enough spaces to jump on.
Then roll a dice and have your little one move themselves the right number of squares.
On different squares, you can also add challenges for your little one to complete, like do 5 jumping jacks or touch your toes 3 times!
In addition to improving their math skills, this will help to burn some active toddler energy too!
Ideas for Number Recognition
Number recognition is being able to see a digit represented in its number form, and know what it is.
Simply put, number recognition means your child can see a 5 and know – hey, that’s a five!
Outdoor Number Hunt Walk
When you look closely, there are actually so many numbers in our everyday, outdoor environment.
From house numbers on front doors, or mailboxes, to speed limit signs, and numbers on license plates.
Take a walk through your neighborhood and play a number spying game.
Spot as many numbers as you can, and have your kids name them (say them) when they see them in digit form.
Sidewalk Chalk Number Line
Use sidewalk chalk to draw a long number line. Let your kid jump along as they count the numbers, landing on each one.
This can be set up for open-ended play.
If they want to add a new challenge to it, they can also collect things (in the matching quantity) that match each number on the line, too.
Number lines are also useful when teaching ‘more than’ or ‘less than,’ or solving basic math problems. Children can move back and forth along the line to solve problems.
They will enjoy the active aspect of moving to solve the problems.
Water Spray Numbers for Recognition or Basic Math
If you’re outdoors, there’s definitely more scope to get a little messy. This activity includes getting a bit wet too!
Children love playing with a spray bottle, and this outdoor math activity is tons of fun, especially in the summer as it warms up.
You can also do this with water balloons, too. However, the water balloons version requires a bit more – preparation, and be prepared to get a lot wetter!
- Write numbers on a large wall or fence using sidewalk chalk, at a child accessible height.
- Call out a number and have them squirt the correct number with their spray bottle!
- If you have siblings, you can make it a race and let them run across the yard to squirt it!
For older kids, you can make it trickier by giving them a simple addition or subtraction calculation to solve and squirt the correct number that is the answer.
Math Games with Number Rocks
Painting numbers onto rocks is a great learning resource.
I’d suggest making 2 sets: Pain one set of 10 rocks with the numerals, 1 to 10. At the same time, paint a second set of rocks with pictorial representations of the numbers 1 to 10 (i.e. 5 spots to represent the number 5).
The pictoral rocks don’t have to be over-the-top cute – simple spots will do!
You can play a ton of games with these:
- Hide them around your outdoor area and have children find them.
- Have them search for a certain value and only bringing it back once they find the correct one (this will also improve their memory as they recall where the other rocks were).
- Match the numeral and pictorial representation rocks.
For more advanced little ones, you can begin early addition. Ask them, can you find me 2 rocks that make 7 altogether?
These games are great when played with friends or siblings too, and encourage gentle competition and collaboration.
Make “number tracks” by drawing or painting a number on paper plates. On the opposite side, draw or paint the spots on to show how many, as this will make the game more flexible!
Lay out the plates, like stepping stones, around your yard or on a patio.
Then have your little one follow them, counting each one in order.
You could also lay them out randomly and shout a number. Then you child has to jump on the correct plate as fast as they can.
Or you could scatter them around the yard in a random order, and have your child gather them and place them in the correct order.
Outdoor Activities to Teach Mathematical Language
Mathematical language sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it’s an easy way to fit math activities into your day, and not just at playtime.
Using mathematical language can be as easy as using number words in meaningful contexts: Here is your other mitten. Now we have two.
You can also talk about the math in everyday situations, for example, when doing up a coat: one hole for each button.
Good vocabulary to introduce to start with, as well as the number words themselves, can include: ‘lots’, ‘fewer’, ‘more’, ‘less’, ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘inside’, ‘under’, ‘long’, ‘longer’, ‘longest’, ‘short’, shorter’, ’shortest’, ‘heavy’, ‘light’, ‘full’, ‘empty’, ‘how many?’, and ‘count’.
Plan a Picnic
If you’re going on a walk anyway, why not plan a picnic to go with it. Have your little one help you to plan and pack for it.
Question them: Will there be enough drinks for everyone? How many sandwiches will we need to make?
This will encourage thinking skills and estimation.
Small World Activities
Kids love playing, and mathematical vocabulary can lend itself to all sorts of play.
If they are playing with their dinosaur figures, have them organize them from longest to shortest, or tallest to smallest.
If they have diggers and dump trucks playing at a building site, discuss which machine can carry ‘more’ soil, and which ‘less’
If they are playing with dolls, ask them how many shoes the dolls will need.
Talk to children, as they play with water or sand, to encourage them to think about when something is full, empty or holds more or less.
Outdoor Math Games to Teach Early Addition and Subtraction
Number recognition and counting skills need to be practiced before you can delve into the world of early addition and subtraction.
However, even if that isn’t quite secure, you can still play some of the math games listed here without the extended number value concepts.
Bean Bag Buckets
Set out some buckets in your garden and throw 1 beanbag into each bucket. Explain that each time you get a bean bag into a bucket, it’s 1 point. And then ask your child to add up the points you just got in your example.
Sounds simple enough? This can be extended in so many ways.
One change could be to number each bucket with a points score, with smaller buckets or the buckets that are further away being worth more points.
If your child gets 1 beanbag in the 1-point bucket, and 1 beanbag in the 2-point bucket, ask them how many points they have in total.
You could make each beanbag have a different value, too.
Or have your child aim to get a certain score – how can they get 4 points with 3 throws?
You can challenge your child through questioning: If each bucket is worth 2 points and I throw 3 beanbags can I score 5 points? Could I score 4 points? What’s the highest score I could get? Or the lowest?
If you don’t have buckets and beanbags, you can always do a similar game by drawing targets with sidewalk chalk to throw pebbles/chestnuts etc at.
Play Backyard Bowling
Kids love playing skittles/bowling. As well as encouraging their motor skills, you can use them to teach math, too.
Playing with a set of 5 skittles/bowling pins will help smaller children begin number skills. Older toddlers can work with 10.
Through your language, you can use them to begin early subtraction skills.
Ask your little one, if I have 10 pins and I knock down 4, how many are left standing? Act it out by knowing down 4 to help them see the relationship.
As you play and question, enourage them to count the objects and use 1:1 recognition to count clearly and accurately.
If you don’t have a set of bowling pins, they are easy to make too by using old water bottles that you can slightly fill with dirt or stones from the garden to weigh down a little.
Children can have fun decorating them, too.
Outdoor Math Games to Teach Shape, Space, and Measurement
Shape, space, and measure is a huge part of math. And it’s often overlooked when sharing math games for preschool kids.
Developing this knowledge helps your preschooler with problem-solving and understanding different aspects of the world.
Collect stones, flowers, and leaves and make patterns with them.
They can be a simple recurring pattern, such as a line of leaf, flower, leaf, flower. Or you can make it trickier with a third object: pebble, leaf, flower / pebble, leaf, flower.
You can also look at making symmetrical patterns using natural objects.
Maybe draw a chalk outline of a head and have your child make the other half of the face using things in the garden.
Draw a Race Car Track
Use chalk to draw a track for toy race cars. You can extend and adapt mathematically by having children make a ‘longer’ way (or some shortcuts) or add in different routes to get to the finish line.
Not only will they love zooming their cars along the track, but you can develop vocabulary too.
You can also use plastic and wooden tracks, which encourage problem-solving and use of space.
Challenge them to make a track that loops back together, or that fits within a confined area but uses all of the pieces.
It’s not necessarily about them getting it ‘right’ but the design and learning skills they develop while changing and adapting.
When you head out on your walks, you can look for shapes.
Encourage children to talk about the shapes they see and use, and how they are arranged and used in the construction of buildings and spaces around them.
You’ll be surprised at how many triangles, squares, and circles there are in the outdoor world once you start looking!
Final Thoughts on Outdoor Math Activities for Kids
As an educator, I hope you can take these outdoor math activities and games and use them to support your children’s development and school readiness.
They can be played and adapted in many ways so you can keep it fresh and exciting.
Plus your kids won’t even realize they are learning. They will be way too busy having fun and playing games with their family to know that!
If you think this outdoor math activities article will be useful for other parents with kids who are preparing for preschool, kindergarten, or even first grade, feel free to share it with them too!