Outdoor Maths: Measuring the Size of Sticks

3 September 2011 · 17 comments

in Early Years Outdoors, Maths Outdoors

One reason why I like meeting other teachers and visiting different places is that I see lots of different ideas. This one is so simple. It was undertaken during the “Mulle” Walk in the International Skogsmulle event when we visited an outdoor I Ur och Skur Kindergarten. If you teach young children, try it! This was a mixed group of 4-5yr olds.

First of all everyone needs to find a stick before the activity begins. As you can see, children will all choose a variety of different sizes. Remember if your outdoor space has no woodland, then it’s possible to bring in a bag to school.

The children take turns to put a stick down on the cloth. The challenge is to make the line of sticks increase in size.

This is deceptively challenging. Some sticks were exactly the same length but different widths. This can lead to quite a bit of decision making by the group as to the order of sticks.

This child also commented that curved sticks when straightened, become longer. So again this means more discussions and collective agreement is needed. Encourage the children to make the decisions about criteria rather than prompting.

As you can see from the children’s faces, this activity is absorbing, even for spectators…

It’s really satisfying seeing the line of sticks develop.

It’s activities like this that make me so passionate about taking learning outside. Simple ideas that use gathered materials which naturally generate focused discussion that leads to a deeper understanding of concepts. No wonder outdoor learning is “sticky”!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherry and Donna September 3, 2011 at 09:59

Oooooh Juliet, I ALWAYS enjoy your stick posts and this is another beauty!
Donna 🙂 🙂


Juliet Robertson September 3, 2011 at 10:35

Agreed – I was actually cross I hadn’t thought of this myself! I do all sorts of line up activities but never this one. Dow!


Scott September 3, 2011 at 14:40

I don’t know why but I’m continually surprised that simple resources and activities can be so engaging and full of learning. Thanks Juliet.


Sam September 3, 2011 at 15:53

A bag of sticks will now be a permanant fixture in my working garden! I love this idea.. thinking that i could extend it further for the older children be getting them actually measure the sticks and do some form of graph to show the height? mmmmmmm


Lauralee Moss September 3, 2011 at 22:41

Very cool. I will try it the next time a group of my son’s friends come over to play!


surfingmonk September 5, 2011 at 04:55

I really like the use of found objects in curriculum. I am curious, what was the ‘hook’ or motivation for these kids? Why were they so interested in arranging the sticks in increasing size?


Juliet Robertson September 5, 2011 at 07:21

Good question. The game started with everyone finding a stick. So with this element of choice and ownership, I think that makes a difference. Also the teacher made the activity a game and involved all the children through her questions and comments. Everyone got at least one go and it was a small group of 9 children. Just my own guesses… I’m sure others can think of more and better ones!


DeLynn September 10, 2011 at 14:03

I just found your blog, this is perfect for me. I am a curriculum support person for an at risk early childhood program in the Chicago area. Thank you for your great ideas!


Juliet Robertson September 10, 2011 at 18:43

Hi DeLynn

Thanks for your feedback – all the best with your work. You may be interested in some of the blogs in the RH column as they will be directly relevant to your work too.

Best wishes


woodshopcowboy.com September 11, 2011 at 18:08

My workplace has been developing similar activities (I make’m, being the woodshop teacher and all) as part of an Piaget-based assessment unit. This would be classified under seriation, if I get my French right. Apparently, the process of thought you describe can indicate a child’s developmental level for certain tasks – i.e. 5-yr-olds usually do such and such a thing, while older students act a different way. It has been interesting watching my colleagues implement his work in the classroom.

-Mr. Patrick.


Juliet Robertson September 11, 2011 at 19:50

Thanks Mr Patrick

I think that’s really interesting and a good nudge in my own thought processes to look at Piaget’s ideas once again.


KC Pagano June 16, 2012 at 23:47

What a cool idea, much like the Montessori pegs. This will be a great activity for our homeschool group.


Juliet Robertson June 17, 2012 at 10:48

Thanks – it is a lovely activity and great for seeing how much children understand the concept of size.


QueenMommy Mason April 26, 2013 at 01:04

this is an interesting Idea and can be done with ANYTHING! rocks, leaves, pine cones!!! I am sharing this on my site’s facebook page!

~Queen Mommy


Anastasia December 17, 2015 at 13:25

This is brilliant! Outside learning is such a great quality learning.


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