Maths in the Great Outdoors

One of the central principles of the Montessori philosophy is the connection with the natural world.  Children develop a curiosity about and a love for nature through having the daily opportunity to experience the outdoors with structure and purpose. To support the learning and development of children effortlessly, we only need to look to see the opportunities the outdoors provides. This environment brings with it nature’s maths: the beauty of shape, symmetry, colour, classification, order, patterning and quantity.

This directly supports Maria Montessori’s description of the mathematical mind: a mind that has the spontaneous ability to organise, classify and quantify patterns and relationships within the context of daily experiences. She recognised that the characteristics of the mathematical mind (order, observation, precision, and imagination)  can be sharpened with careful nurturing, and nature provides us with the means to do this.

Children naturally use mathematical thinking and learn mathematical skills as part of their outdoor experiences. They will count, measure, explore shapes and develop mathematical ideas through their imagination and creative play, extending their learning from indoors. We should recognise the mathematical potential of the outdoors environment for children to discover things about shape, distance and measures through their physical activity – just look outside for a wealth of ‘mathematical’ resources that children can really get inspired by.

Maria Montessori recognised the scope for learning provided by nature, and you can provide the same opportunities.  When you look closely, the everyday living world is intriguing and magical, and full of awe and wonder: think of the excitement when a child finds their first ladybird, how many times as a child did you count the dots on the ladybirds back?

Young children feel this need for exploration, discovery and creative learning strongly; we can help them to retain this throughout their lives.


A few ideas to get you started outside:


  • Build a den and then talk together about the shape and size of a shelter that could be built; how wide, tall, or long do we want to make it?
  • How many people do we want to fit inside?
  • What size sticks do we need to collect?
  • How many sticks will we need?


Create an obstacle course:

  • Experience climbing up, around, on, under and over, and talk about size, height, and shape of obstacles.
  • How many children can sit on them?
  • Use directional language – over, under or through
  • Use positional language – forwards, or backwards
  • Time taken to complete the course, using a stop watch or sand timer


Look at the sky:

  • What patterns can be seen in the clouds? Are they changing? How are they changing?
  • How fast or slow are the clouds moving?
  • Look at the shadows outside, and draw around the shadow made by one of the children.
  • Measure the shadow outline and the child, and talk about the difference.
  • Repeat this in the morning, at midday and in the afternoon – does it change?


Make a collection of natural objects, and then count them:

  • How many are there?
  • Sort them using size, or shape.



  • Are there enough spades for everyone?
  • How many seeds can we plant in a row? How much space do they need?
  • Leaf shapes
    • How big will they grow? What shape will they be?
    • How much water do we need?
    • Have they grown? By how much?


Leaf sweeping:

  • How many leaves are in your wheelbarrow/bucket/pile?
  • How many leaves are on your spade?
  • Are the leaves heavy or light?



  • How many logs can you build up?
  • Can you make them balance?
  • What will make the logs fall over?
  • What happens if you build too high?


First published in Montessori International, issue 117