Over, Under, Through

In this lesson, children will navigate an obstacle course to learn directional concepts such as moving over, under, around and through.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems and processes of measurement
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurements
  • Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems
  • Use visualization, spatial reasoning and geometric modeling to solve problems

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Describing, naming and interpreting direction and distance by navigating space and applying ideas about direction and distance
  • Describing, naming and interpreting relative positions in space and applying ideas about relative position
  • Finding and naming locations with simple relationships such as “under” and in coordinate systems such as maps
  • Developing common referents for measures to make comparisons and estimates
  • Comparing and ordering objects according to attributes
  • Describing and naming relative positioning when traveling over, under, around and through
  • Describing an object by its shape and location

Over, Under, Through

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book Over, Under, Through by Tana Hoban
  • A variety of different objects such as cones, boxes, tunnels, chairs and empty two-liter plastic bottles

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Scatter obstacles throughout the classroom. If you don’t have a tunnel, you can make a tunnel by draping a sheet or a blanket over some chairs. Set up the plastic bottles like an obstacle course so that the children have to hop over them. Make sure there are obstacles that the children can go under, over, around and through. Be creative! Obstacles should be spaced throughout the movement space so that there is plenty of space between and around objects.
  2. Explain that today’s math activity is going to involve a lot of movement. Say: “We are going to talk about words that we use when we travel: “Over the river, through the mountains….”

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Read the book, Over, Under, Through.
  2. Introduce the obstacles scattered around the room. Ask the children to find and explore as many ways as possible to travel around, over, under or through the obstacles.
  3. Before you let the children start, remind them that, while they are traveling, they are to remain safe while they think about which objects are better for traveling over, under, around and through.
  4. After the children have had a chance to travel through the obstacle course, ask them to point out which objects are best to go under, around, over and through. Use a checklist to record the children’s answers.

Additional Extensions

  • Have the children draw a map of the obstacle course and indicate how they navigated each object. They can color code their movements: red can be used if they went under an object, yellow if they went over an object, blue if they went around an object and green if they went through an object.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Over: An upward and forward direction across something (e.g.,“You can travel over the barrel.”)
  • Around: On every side of (e.g.,“We went around the cones.”)
  • Through: Moving in one side and out the other side (e.g.,“Move through the tunnel.”)
  • Under: In or into a position that is below or beneath something (e.g.,“You crawled under the chair.”)
  • Direction: The course or path on which something or someone is moving (e.g., “Note the direction in which you moved through the obstacle course.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Have limited vocabulary or difficulty with word retrieval
  • Have difficulty observing their positions in relation to other objects
Child care providers may:
  • Use just one directional (under) in the beginning
  • Ask questions that include the directional words so that the children can answer “yes” or “no” to the questions (e.g., “Are you going through the tunnel?”)
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Be ready to increase their vocabulary by adding more directional words to describe how they travel
  • Be able to demonstrate their understanding of directional words by not only describing the ways in which they travel, but by writing and drawing about them as well
Child care providers may:
  • Have the children draw a map of the obstacle course and indicate how they navigated each object (They can color code their movements: red can be used if they went under an object, yellow if they went over an object, blue if they went around an object and green if they went through an object.)

Suggested Books

  • Over, Under, Through by Tana Hoban (New York: Aladdin, 2008)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

Set up an obstacle course outside and include a kiddie pool filled with water that the children can wade through. Activities can be much more creative and messy outside!

Web Resources

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