Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
SoCal Update

SoCal Update

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (UK)

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Unforgotten

Unforgotten

Start watching
In Their Own Words

In Their Own Words

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
PBS NewsHour

PBS NewsHour

Start watching
Halifax: Retribution

Halifax: Retribution

Start watching
Midsomer Murders

Midsomer Murders

Start watching
X5ZQAor-show-poster2x3-OqYWNwS.jpg

Atlantic Crossing

Start watching
gc2Zpzc-show-poster2x3-le96lbT.jpg

Life at the Waterhole

Start watching
NOVA

NOVA

Start watching
Finding Your Roots

Finding Your Roots

Start watching
Antiques Roadshow

Antiques Roadshow

Start watching
Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Membership Card
Support PBS SoCal by becoming a member today.
Other Ways to Give Card
Learn about the many ways to support PBS SoCal.
Connect with Our Team Card
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Three Outdoor Activities for Kids to Practice Sorting and Creating Sets with Nature

Mother and daughter walking in the forest
Get out there! Nature offers endless opportunities to practice math.
Things from nature like pinecones, sticks, leaves, flowers, rocks, shells and acorns are just waiting to be used to develop kids' math skills. Here are three simple ways you can use them to tap into your child’s mathematical thinking outdoors.
Support Provided By

No matter what time of year it is where you live, or what the weather is like, nature provides endless opportunities for children to flex their mathematical thinking.

When we take the learning outdoors, kids can hone their observational skills and get curious about the world around them. And instead of purchasing expensive hands-on mathematics kits for your child, connecting with nature provides a variety of loose parts that are just waiting to be utilized to practice math. Things like pinecones, sticks, leaves, flowers, rocks, shells and acorns provide us with ample opportunities to support children in developing counting and cardinality skills.

Here are three simple ways you can tap into your child’s mathematical thinking outdoors.

Egg Carton Nature Hunt

Make the most out of an egg carton that was heading for the trash by inviting your child to go on an egg carton nature hunt. Before heading outside, think about how many items you’d like your child to find (it’s a good idea to think about your child’s particular abilities, age and attention span). If you’d like your child to start with finding six items, cut the egg carton in half. Alternatively, challenge your child by inviting them to find 12 items.

Once you’ve decided on the number of items, think about what specific items you’d like your child to find. Examples might include acorns, clovers, dandelions, feathers, grass, leaves, stones, small sticks or rocks. Support your child’s understanding by helping them draw small images of each item and taping the pictures on top of the egg carton. You can also write down how many of each item they should find on their nature hunt (e.g., two dandelions or three blades of grass). Encourage your child to respect nature by only picking up fallen items as opposed to picking them from living plants. Head outside and watch your child enjoy sorting the natural items. Use math talk such as:

  • “Where should we look to find an acorn? Up high or down low? How do you know?”
  • “Can you use your words to describe an acorn? What shapes is it?”
  • “How many pebbles did you find? Do we have more pebbles or more flowers in the egg carton?”
  • “What is the same about this blade of grass and this leaf? What is different?”

This activity can be modified to focus on color, shape, texture and more.

Nature Graphing

All you need for this activity is a large piece of paper (brown packing paper or a used paper bag work great), coloring materials, a basket and an outdoor space. Prior to heading outside, create a simple graph on the piece of paper by writing “things in nature” on the bottom (x-axis) and “How many” on the left side (y-axis). Brainstorm four items your child will likely find the most of, based on the time of year and where you live. For example, your neighborhood might have many leaves, fallen flowers, acorns and rocks. Involve your child in drawing pictures of the items you brainstormed on the bottom (x-axis). Alternatively, find magazine pictures to glue on your graph instead. Head outside and give your child the basket to carry. Place the graph on the ground and use rocks to prevent it from blowing away. Search for the items in nature and place them directly on the graph. This will provide a concrete representation of how many of each item you found and allow children to make comparisons as they sort the items into groups based on the graph’s pictures. Use math talk to encourage curiosity, such as:

  • “Where should we put this acorn? What do you see on the graph that helps you know where to put the acorn?” You can use this question for each item.
  • “How many leaves do we have? How many rocks do we have? Do we have more leaves or more rocks? How do you know?”
  • “Which items are bumpy, soft, hard, small, big, colorful, etc.?”
  • “If we sort the items in a different way, based on color, shape and size, which items might go in a pile together? Why?”

Nature Sort

Print out a copy of the My Nature Sort activity or create your own on a large piece of paper. Gather coloring materials and writing tools and place them in a bag or container you can bring outside. Head out and invite your child to observe nature and find things that fit into each category. Guide your child to draw pictures, write words or phrases, or gather the items they find and place them in your container. Prompt your child to hone their observational skills by using math talk such as:

  • “Where can I look to find things that fly?”
  • “I see a feather here on the ground. I wonder where I should draw the feather? Is it soft, can it fly, or do I find it up high?”
  • “This flower is very soft and it is one of my favorite things. I’m going to draw this flower in both categories.”

As your child stays engaged, invite them to come up with their own categories to sort things in nature. Ideas might include sorting based on texture, color, shape, purpose, height, size or other creative characteristics.

When we bring learning outdoors, we support children in making sense of the world around them. We also provide children with the chance to move their bodies, make connections to the earth, and see that “doing math” doesn’t just take place in school or with pencil and paper. What other ways can you bring math outdoors?

Support Provided By
Read More
A group of diverse kids smile in this portrait. They are stacked on top of each other while cuddling in close and showing how happy they are.

Raising the Future: Teaching Kids How to Celebrate Our Differences

Educating kids to be activists is key to creating a better world. But how can educators start this process with their littlest students? Helping them recognize their own identities and biases is a great place to begin. Here’s how.
The athlete holding the relay race wood baton, is kneeling down on the track, preparing to start the first leg of a relay race. family math relay activity olympics

Family Math Activity: Take Part in a Relay Race!

Can you race like an Olympian? Try out this simple family relay race activity, which will get your child moving, as well as collecting, graphing and comparing data. Three ... two ... one ... GO!
Shot of a mother and her adorable baby boy doing the laundry at home

10 formas fáciles para darle giros matemáticos a actividades familiares cotidianas

¿Saben lo que el lavar ropa, hacer de comer y limpiar tiene en común además de ser quehaceres que todos tenemos que hacer? ¡Son actividades excelentes para practicar las matemáticas en casa y pueden ser muy divertidas! ¿Cómo? Para mantenerlas fáciles, solo se necesitan unos giros inteligentes aquí y allá.