“Look! Look! A log with a hole in it! Can we climb in it?” Our hike had come to a complete halt as the children gazed at the length of the hollowed out tree branch. This wonderful hollow log was just calling for investigation! Being the crazy math girl that I am I knew that we could play our way through plenty of geometrical vocabulary words and phrases as we explored this log. We had also just had a new student join our program and this beautiful, crisp, morning in nature created the perfect setting to bond new friendships, share our learning style with parents and enjoy the calmness of the outdoors!
Late fall and winter is a great time to find these special places in the woods. This spring and summer the same log was covered in foliage and poison ivy. Yikes! Fall and winter offer different views of forest areas and tend to be a good time to introduce children to nature if it is not a part of their daily lives. There are fewer bugs, the children are wearing more layers of clothing to protect them from scrapes and new sensory experiences and we don’t worry as much about poison ivy. We are often asked, as a nature based preschool, what we do all day? How do they learn? Well, we go on adventures and discover math gold mines like this hollow log!
Physical play like this allows mathematical phrases to become understood easily and naturally without worksheets and manipulatives. When a child can climb through a cylinder shape, the word through makes a lot more sense. So of course we allow our friends to explore by going through, and climbing on top of, to look down below. These spatial relationships, where something is located in relationship to something else, are essential to math in the later years. This log play invited us to use many of these concepts as the children explored:
- inside, outside
- in front of, in back of, behind
- low, high
- above, below
- on top of
Understanding spatial relationships helps children talk about where things are located. This strengthens their understanding of these concepts as they use the vocabulary words repeatedly throughout their play! Geometric shapes are a kindergarten common core standard and when we actually play with and in our shapes, the learning becomes deeper, more intentional and relevant.
“It looks like the inside of that slide at the park!” remarks Avery, as she immediately leads the pack through the open branch. “The tube slide!” agreed Violet. And from there, the comparisons and learning took over. As I introduce the word cylinder, they continue to share other concepts and ideas of what this hollow log reminds them of. We discuss cans and batteries and toilet paper rolls, which naturally brings roars of laughter, because when you are four there is nothing funnier than a toilet paper roll! Recognizing shapes is a math concept that for many young children will come before numeric skills. When we return to the block area later in the week, the word cylinder not only returns but suddenly we are re-creating our hike with blocks. The children build bridges and trees and paths and of course, there by the side of the trail, right where it should be is a cylinder. The hollow tree branch that brought a whole morning of geometric exploration through age appropriate play, will be a source of math intelligence that will be retrieved many times throughout their lives.