Rainbow Maths Sticks

8 April 2014 · 11 comments

in Maths Outdoors, Nature Play & Learning

Post image for Rainbow Maths Sticks

The mathematical potential of a stick never ceases to amaze me. Here’s my latest idea which is remarkably simple and came about owing to overhearing someone mention colour coding.

You get some sticks. You paint the ends different colours. You play with them. You explore the potential for maths. That’s it. Experiment!

Now if you have given this post a quick glance and assumed it’s for the Early Years then stop. Look again. These sticks can be used in a variety of challenging ways well beyond the Early Years.

Cut sticks

I decided to go for pencil sized twigs. So I cut them overwinter so that they are green wood. The idea here is that the sticks are stronger and will last longer. However there’s no reason why children can’t go and gather sticks which have fallen on the ground. This ensures a higher degree of ownership. You could use lolly (popsicle) sticks but they are a poor relative. Believe me.

Peeled sticks

The ends need to be peeled. This is a job for a potato peeler. It’s as easy as peeling carrots provided there are no knots in the green wood. Little children can easily manage this task with support to get going. With dead wood the job is more difficult. I wouldn’t bother peeling in this instance.

From here the sticks can be painted at either end. I went for rainbow colours as they work well together. The first photo in this posts shows the entire collection. It’s based on a dominoes pack. I also added in a “rogue” silver and gold stick. They are a bit like the joker in a pack of cards. Part of the attraction is that the sticks are all slightly different lengths and widths. This non-uniformity adds to the interest, challenge and creativity.

Zigzag sticks

Next, just have fun. Children will play with these in different ways. They may not see them as a pack of maths sticks. Little children will pick them up and carry them around an outdoor space. Some children may turn them into mixers in a patch of mud. That doesn’t matter. Let them play with the sticks in their own way. And you play with them in yours!

Star Sticks

Here’s some of the things I had fun doing.In the photo below I explored the relationships between primary and secondary colours. Can you work out what I have done and how to recognise the complementary colours?

Primary triangles

I’ve blogged about playing pick up sticks before. The addition of colour adds an extra challenge. If each colour is is assigned a numerical value, then suddenly decisions have to be made about which is the best stick to pick up. Oh! And if there are different colours at either end, then the numerical values needed added together. Alternatively, each colour can represent key numbers for place value, e.g. red = units, orange = tens, yellow = hundreds, etc.

Pick up sticks

Logic games work well too. In the activity below, the placement of each stick needs to be justified. That’s the only rule, really.

Logic sticks

Traditional patterns and shapes can also be made. Don’t forget to play a game of colour dominoes too!

The Maze

The possibilities are endless… what would your children do? And you? Go on… give them a go… You know you want to…

The Cube

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jules Mountain April 8, 2014 at 07:14

Hi Juliet – quick quezzie, what kind of paint did you use, and do you expect to have to repaint each year?


Juliet Robertson April 8, 2014 at 07:41

Good Q Julie – I used acrylic deco pens for all the colours except gold and silver. These were created with acrylic paint that comes in a tube.

I used this because it works well for my painted pebbles.

However… with greenwood, the wood is best left to dry first.

At the moment they are bearing up well to dew, rain and general wet conditions. I’m not anticipating that they will need much more than an annual repaint. I think this would be different if they were on bigger sticks which are used for tapping work.

With the first “set” I just gathered sticks – the bark did start peeling off some of the sticks which is why I reckon going for green wood and whittling works best.

Hope this helps.


Coombemill April 17, 2014 at 21:39

I was fascinated reading this, you really have used your imagination for how to use these sticks and the colour matching and mixing relationships is definitely beyond the early years. Thanks for sharing some imaginative learning on Country Kids.


Kierna April 18, 2014 at 09:53

Great idea Juliet & I hope people see the potential for all ages not just younger children. Thanks for supporting the OPP too.


Jude April 19, 2014 at 08:12

Great idea, so simple yet so effective and looks great too #countrykids


Leila - Mud Mud Marvellous Mud April 22, 2014 at 08:41

This is brilliant and I know Little Man would love to play with them. I am gonna have to make a set for home. Thanks for sharing at the Outdoor Play Party 🙂


Kim April 27, 2014 at 12:37

Brilliant idea. Can’t wait to try this. I’ve got some children in mind who would love this.


Niccola January 1, 2015 at 12:53

Just found your blog and I think it’s great. I have linked up my stick ideas that I wrote Feb 2014. I also made some stick dominoes which I thought you may be interested in-as we were thinking along the same lines.


Juliet Robertson January 1, 2015 at 13:35

Nicola – indeed great minds think alike! I liked that you went for the simplicity of 3 colours and have further wetted my appetite for more logic explorations of colour and sticks.


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