Messy Maths Outdoors

19 March 2011 · 1 comment

in Maths Outdoors, Outdoor Courses & Training

Grounds for Learning – the Scottish school grounds charity held it’s national networking event last week. It’s become quite an annual tradition in the Scottish outdoor learning calendar and it was lovely to be part of this positive event. When the film clips come out, I’ll post them!

The weather was wet, sleety and blustery. Combined with the soggy grass, this was the ideal combination for my messy maths workshops. There was a LOT of mud. The aim of messy maths is to give children, especially those who lack confidence in maths or have disengaged, an opportunity to learn outside building on from play-based experiences. It works well for classes who need to reinforce concepts and skills learnt indoors in a practical context outdoors. Here’s some of the ideas, in case you missed them!

Outdoor Master Chef in a Mud Kitchen

This is an extension of the popular mud and outdoor kitchens that have been popping up on pre-school blogs world-wide. It requires putting out a few pots, pans, and kitchen items in a place where children can access a bit of mud, leaves and other natural materials. The group has to invent a recipe using natural ingredients to hand. The rest of the class must feedback to the group on:

  • Their ability to demonstrate how the product was created
  • Their accurate use and frequency of mathematical terms especially those related to quantity and measurement
  • The aesthetic look of the final product
  • Dramatic performance – the audience want to be entertained (NB No F-words or other uncouth language)

The workshop participants undertook the challenge with vigour. The “kitchen” was set up near to a supply of natural materials. I brought along the kitchen items and a few exciting extras such as coloured water, syringes and plastic piping.

The final products almost looked good enough to eat. The mud mousse looked very realistic!

Find out what factors affect the speed or flow of water

At the Scottish second level, children are expected to know and use the formula

Speed = Distance ÷ Time


The aim of this activity is to get children to apply this to practical work. Fair testing is a real consideration:

Rope work

Another group was challenged with the task of making a maths activity that involved using a big old climbing rope. We had some great ideas including making fractions with the rope, a huge clock and undertaking group team challenges to make different shapes using the rope and being blindfolded.

Create a water clock that accurately measures one minute

This produces some very interesting designs as the participants had to work out what materials would work best and how to measure one minute.

Sand sculptures

The final activity was using sand and tarp to make three sand sculptures. One had to have the largest volume, the next the largest area and the final one the largest perimeter. Below is the sculpture with the largest area. It has lots of knobbly holes to increase the surface area!

The volume sculptures were almost always the tallest structures. The perimeter sculptures definitely had the most interesting and complex edges.

Messy maths is not textbook maths. It takes the concepts outdoors and applies them in a playful and challenging way for any child. The activities work well for children working together of different ages. It makes a nice series of “master classes” for schools who operate this within their weekly timetables. Alternatively, it can be a Golden Time option. Most importantly, it makes maths fun.

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Abbie March 20, 2011 at 03:14

These activites are AWESOME! I love the math minute one. I think even summer camp kids would really get a kick out of this challenge. Sounds like so much fun to play around with and try to figure out.


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