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STEM Learning for Preschoolers: Math Activities Using Natural Materials

Toddler has fingers around plants on a picnic table

Math is an important part of the early childhood curriculum that helps children get prepared for kindergarten. Skills like sorting, counting, and recognizing shapes will set children up for success in later mathematics when they transition into elementary school. Young children learn best through play, which is why it can be beneficial to incorporate math concepts into activities that children already enjoy, such as using natural materials while outside exploring nature. In this article, we share some ideas for making math learning an engaging outdoor activity.

Size Comparison with Natural Materials

Image and activity idea from Nurture Store

This simple math activity requires no set-up and is a great way for young children to get comfortable with comparison, counting, and measuring. Gather leaves, or any other natural materials such as rocks, twigs, or flowers, and then help the children lay out the items in increasing and decreasing size order.  You can also help children practice estimation skills by asking them questions, such as…Is this leaf bigger or smaller than this one? Which of these leaves is the biggest? How many leaves do you think we collected all together? 

Nature Numbers: Sorting and Counting

Image and activity from Nature with Kids

This activity requires only chalk, an area of sidewalk, and a variety of natural materials, such as leaves, rocks, twigs, acorns, pinecones, etc.  Start by drawing circles on the concrete and writing a number inside each circle. If you work with older children, you might encourage them to draw the shapes and practice writing their numbers.

Next, ask the children to place items within each circle in the quantity that corresponds to the number written inside that circle. This activity helps children to practice one-to-one correspondence and counting. You might also help children sort the items, putting leaves in one circle, or rocks in another circle. Sorting helps children practice classification and categorization.

Making Shapes with Natural Materials

For this activity, you’ll want a variety of natural materials so that children can use them to lay out different shapes. You can draw a few shapes on the sidewalk with chalk for children to trace, or let them create the shapes from their own imagination. Encourage children to see how many different shapes they can create! This simple activity helps children learn spatial sense and early geometry skills, by introducing concepts such as shape, size, and space.

Measuring in Nature: Rulers, Measuring Tape, & Scales

Images and activity idea
from Mother Natured

The only materials you’ll need to have on hand for this activity are rulers, measuring tape, and scales.  You’ll start by helping children collect a variety of natural materials that they will then measure and compare.  If measuring is a skill that is new to the children, you can work with them as a group as you demonstrate how to measure size with rulers and measuring tapes, and weight with scales.  Children can also work individually by working with a tool that interests them and walking around to collect measurements.  You can add in another math concept by creating a graph or other form of documentation to track the children’s results and compare sizes.

Measuring helps children to become comfortable with counting, number recognition, categorization, and comparison.

Click here to find more information about setting up this activity.

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