Outdoor Math Activity: Count to 10 with Nature

Outdoor Math Activity: Count to 10 with Nature. Introduce numbers in a playful way with this forest-school inspired outdoor learning activity for preschoolers. Rain or Shine Mamma

Published on August 16th, 2014 Updated on January 10th, 2023 By Linda McGurk

In forest schools – commonplace in Scandinavia, Germany, the UK and other European countries – learning is play-based, child-led, and takes place outdoors, without the confines of four walls.  The outdoor pedagogy of these nature preschools and kindergartens is still a fairly novel concept in North America, but whether you’re homeschooling or sending your kids to daycare or public nursery school/preschool you can incorporate the principles of outdoor learning at home. This is the first part of a series in which I explore a range of playful, DIY forest-school inspired activities. First up is an outdoor math activity.

Outdoor learning as a concept is slowly beginning to catch on in North America and as of 2017 there were a little over 200 forest schools in the US, according to the Natural Start Alliance. (Learn more about the benefits of forest schooling in my post What Is Forest School.) Unfortunately none of them are anywhere near us, so when preschool was looming on the horizon for my youngest, then 3-year-old daughter, I decided to go in a different direction. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to send her to a forest school, I knew I could make my own version at home and hold off on formal education for another year.

DIY Forest School I: Count to 10 with Nature. Rain or Shine Mamma

This series of outdoor activities is the result of our year of forest schooling at home, and it introduces math, pre-literacy skills, as well as gross and fine motor skills, which pave the way for learning academic facts later.

Please note that according to traditional, Scandinavian forest school pedagogy all learning should be play-based and child-led. That means that this outdoor math activity, and other activities in this series, only should be considered open invitations to play and learn. The idea behind the activities is primarily to boost your child’s desire to explore, activate his or her senses and leave plenty of room for unstructured play in nature.

Depending on your child’s interests, there’s a chance you may end up going in a completely different direction once you get started, and that’s just fine. Young children are constantly learning, whether adults are directing them to or not, and at forest school, the adults are considered co-explorers who learn alongside the children, rather than teachers. The forest school pedagogy also emphasizes that all children learn in their own unique way and at their own pace.

DIY Forest School I: Count to 10 with Nature. Rain or Shine Mamma

This outdoor math activity is a fun take on counting and numbers and can be modified as you please, but the list below shows what we set out to find and do in order to practice counting to 10.

Outdoor Math Activity: Counting to 10 with nature

Age: Preschool

Time: About an hour

Materials: A list of 10 items and/or tasks (see below). A pen and clipboard is helpful but not mandatory.

Place: Any natural area (modify the list to suit your surroundings)

What to find/do:

1 Log to balance on

2 Large rocks to jump from

3 Ants

4 Butterflies

5 Different types of flowers

6 Small rocks to throw in the creek

7 Laps around a tree

8 Tree nuts

9 Blades of grass

10 Leaves

DIY Forest School I: Count to 10 with Nature. Rain or Shine Mamma

When I did this outdoor math activity with my daughter, she was thrilled to take on the task. And even though I came up with the activity, she had a lot of freedom in how to execute it, for example by choosing what to put on the list. Throughout the session, I tried to be attentive to what caught her interest. This time, it turned out that the ant home we found under an old log was the most fascinating item on the list. However, the ants were soon forgotten when she found – and caught – a small toad in the grass. It seemed like a fitting end to our first day of DIY forest school.

Outdoor Math Activity: Count to 10 with Nature. Introduce numbers in a playful way with this forest-school inspired outdoor learning activity for preschoolers. Rain or Shine Mamma

13 thoughts on “Outdoor Math Activity: Count to 10 with Nature

  1. Mae says:

    I really love this. I so wish we had forest schools near us. I think my son, really all kids, would benefit. For now we will follow along and DIY it too.

  2. Emily says:

    Could you hear me squeal from Michigan?!?! I am so excited to have found this! We tend to lean towards Charlotte Mason because of her importance put on kiddos under 7 being outside as much as possible. I’ve wanted to start a nature group with some friends who homeschool their littles, like I do, this is PERFECT!!!! Please share more!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Yay! I always love hearing from new readers and I’m so happy you’ve found my blog! Nature groups are a great idea and something I’ve heard has been quite successful in many places. I’ll definitely be sharing more this fall – make sure to sign up for email updates to make sure you don’t miss any posts! I typically post once a week, so you don’t have to worry about me bombarding your inbox:o)

  3. Coombemill says:

    The more I see of forest schools the more fun it all looks and educational too. I love your counting stones and it has given me another idea too for our fairy garden! Thank you for sharing with me on Country Kids

  4. Kelly Sage says:

    Excited to find your website and this post! We started homeschooling last year and find that all of our adventures outside lead to the most authentic learning. Thanks for this. Looking forward to rest in the series.

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Welcome to my site – I’m glad you found me! I’m excited about the series too and plan to post our activities on a regular basis this fall, so check back often or sign up for email updates if you want to be sure not to miss anything:o) And thanks for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.

  5. WildFamilyFun says:

    What a wonderful post and I cant wait to read more about your outdoor journey. I totally agree with you, I am so passionate about my daughter having as much outdoor learning as possible, I truly believe she has developed so much confidence from her experiences outdoors. I am training to be a Forest School Leader and I would love you to read my post on one of my Forest School adventurs making tree faces with the children, http://wp.me/p4jd4S-88 I cant wait to read more of your stories!

    • Linda McGurk says:

      Thank you, Kim! And I love your post about the clay tree faces – I think that’s something we will have to try! It’s so great to hear that you’re training to become a forest school leader, we definitely need more of those.

  6. Ari says:

    Hi, I am a teacher and I love playing with kids in nature. I love how you let the spark of interest and curiosity led the way and followed it together. I have a son, who is almost a toddler and I am thinking about starting a nature group with kids his age. I would love to hear your feedback on this and maybe give me some tips, where I live it’s mostly jungle and there are a few parks in which I can teach lessons like this allowing natural inspiration in open ended activities. Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences, greetings from Mexico.

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