Time Outside

22 November 2009 · 2 comments

in Maths Outdoors, Science Outdoors

I’m busy writing the notes for an Early Years Outdoor Maths course. Here’s a wee extract form the time section. It’s directly linked to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence Numeracy and Maths Experiences and Outcomes.

I am aware of how routines and events in my world link with times and seasons, and have explored ways to record and display these using clocks, calendars and other methods.
MNU 0-10a


long time, short time, season, date, day, month, year, hour, minute, second, now, then, soon, later, forever, never, quickly, fast, slow, slowly, almost, nearly, morning, afternoon, evening, night, midnight, midday, noon, etc.

Setting up the outdoor area

Have an outdoor weather station which enables children to record the date, time and season as part of the daily activities being outdoors. This can be made from laminated material and Velcro tabs. Magnetic boards and symbols are another alternative. Some commercial boards are entirely plastic and therefore suitable for being outside.

Have a range of timers, stopwatches and clocks which can be used outside on a regular basis in all sorts of structured and free play activities. A clock facing outwards into the outdoor area can be helpful for staff and children! Sand timers are often portable, robust and waterproof. They are useful for turn taking outside.

Use mobile phones and show children where to find and read the time when they ask how long they have before going home, etc.

Laminate the sheets of a calendar for hanging outdoors in the role play area

Adopt a tree or plant a tree in or near the outdoor area. Each week a child can take a photo of the tree. This can be put on display or added to a book so that the children can see the changes which happen through the year.

Create time lines and sequences of activities children are doing outside. This could be “Our morning” or “How to Plant a Seed”, etc. These make lovely pictorial records and the pictures can be used for sorting and ordering afterwards – either on the ground or by hanging on a line with pegs and moved about

Snow or ice melting can be timed – at any time of the year! (Freeze snow to bring out at other times of the year)

Monitor the length of time a bucket of sand passes through a sieve

Estimate then time how long it takes for a bottle of water to travel through guttering. Put on a stick or ping-pong ball to watch it float on the water

Spend time outside throughout the year undertaking seasonal activities and celebrations. There are many books which give ideas for seasonal activities outdoors. Plant seeds in spring to harvest in summer and autumn. Have snow festivals. Go for seasonal walks and look for signs of the different seasons

Specific Games and Activities


Play hopscotch but write the days of the week or months of the year on grid instead of numbers

“What time is it Mr Wolf?”

One child is the wolf who stands at the opposite end of the playground to the rest of the group. The group chants, “What time is it Mr Wolf?”. The wolf turns around and says a time, e.g. 3 o’clock. The group takes three steps towards the wolf. The chant is repeated and the wolf turns around and calls out another time. When someone gets close to the wolf, the wolf can shout “Dinner Time” and chase the group back to the line. Then another child becomes the wolf and the game begins again.

 An outdoor clock

This is a short and sweet activity to help children learn about analogue time. Children can work alone or in pairs. The first job is to create the clock. Here’s what it needs to look like:

If you don’t have chalk or are working on grass then stones with painted numbers on them work well too.

Ideally the sticks should be slightly different sizes to represent the minute and hour hands. In the photo above I asked the children to colour the hour hand with the chalk to make it different.

I tend to tell a story and every time I mention the time, the children change the hands on the clock. For example, “It was Monday morning and Tom had to go to school that day. What time do you think he woke up at?” Then the children tell me their ideas and make the time on their clock. By doing this, time is put into a more real context. It can also be linked to any project or event that’s happening.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mad November 25, 2009 at 16:01

on a sunny day(!), explore the way time passes by drawing round shadows – link to making sundials. mark a spot and stand on it several times during the session…..


CreativeSTAR November 25, 2009 at 17:34

Quite bizarrely this session, every time I’ve been working in a school or running a workshop, the weather has been fine. How can this be so?

Thanks for adding this idea – strangely I’d put it in the “patterns and sequences” section.

At Fermilab near Chicago, the Science Education Centre has a lovely human sundial, where (on a sunny day) you can tell the time by standing in one spot and holding your hands high.


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