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Maths as easy as a walk in the park

Marjorie Gorman shows how teachers can help parents to use the world around them to stimulate children's interest in numbers.

Photography by William Shaw

Children who have attended Maths Year 2000 festivals with their parents said how much they enjoyed sharing mathematical ideas as a family - and parents had fun, too.

However, parents shouldn't feel they have to attend an event many miles from home in order to improve their children's maths. A walk in the local park can become valuable maths experience when parents and children talk about the things they see around them.

Some parks are formal, with obvious geometrical patterns in their layout and planting design. Nearly all are free.

Teachers can photocopy the ideas on the next page to help parents gently and naturally show children some of the maths in the real world.


Children go to the park to play and to run about in the open air. They do not expect to have a maths lesson - and quite rightly. But maths can arise naturally and incidentally as they skip around and talk with parents and siblings.

Here are some opportunities for mathematical questions that might arise in a park.

At the gates

What time does the park open? When does it close? How many hours a day is it open? Why are the times different in summer and winter?

Along the paths

Children can be encouraged to describe what they see as accurately as possible: the national curriculum recognises the importance of having and using a correct vocabulary from the earliest years.

Sometimes interesting patterns can be seen on paths - herringbone, hexagonal, octagonal and square patterns are all common. Infant children could name the shapes they recognise. Junior children could try to say which shapes tessellate and why.

Where do the paths go? Do they join others? At what angles do they meet? Are the paths curved or straight? Are some paths wider than others? What is the opposite of wider?


Parents can encourage children to count as they skip or walk along. How many skips can they achieve before they have to stop? Which times tables can they chant while skipping? Can they count backwards or say the tables backwards while they skip? Which number can they start from?

On the grass

If there is a lot of space, children can try jumping. Since this is a walk, not a maths lesson, measures will have to be estimated. How far can children jump? More than one metre? Less than a metre? Do they jump further with both feet together or by taking a running jump? Can they jump the equivalent of their height?

Flower beds

How long are the flower beds? How wide are they? If you count the number of strides, about how many metres is that? What shapes do they make? What is the circumference of the area? How many plants are there?

Looking at trees

Trees provide lots of opportunities for children to estimate, something they are often reluctant to do in the classroom. Using paces to estimate distances is useful because, once the children return home, they can measue their pace accurately and work out the distances in metres. Estimating the number of leaves on a tree or, in autumn, on the ground can be a challenge: how could you estimate how many leaves there are? Mental strategies such as repeated doubling or multiplying by 10 or 100 work well.

How far away is that tree? Perhaps 50 metres or 100 metres? How could you estimate this? How tall is that tree? More than 10 metres? How could we estimate this? Which is the tallest tree? Which tree has the greatest girth or circumference of trunk? How big is it?

Special attractions

Most parks have at least one special feature - it could be a fountain, a statue, a bandstand, a sundial or flower clock.

Look at the special feature, ask the children to describe and ask questions about it, such as what would it look like from a helicopter? How tall is it? How wide? What shapes can you recognise? If there is a sundial or floral clock, ask what time it is - or why you can't tell the time.

The playground

What shapes can children see in the climbing frame? Are any symmetrical? How many triangles can they see? How many times can they swing in one minute? Can they tell when five minutes or 10 minutes have passed? How long does it take to go down the slide? One minute or less?


Number and the number system Y1 Count on and back in ones.

Y2 Count to 100, count on or back in tens.

Y3 Know by heart 2, 5, 10 times tables.

Y4 Round numbers to the nearest 10 or 100.

Y5 Multiply and divide by 10 or 100.

Y6 Solve simple problems involving ratio and proportion.

Shape, space and measures

Y1 Use everyday language to describe features of familiar 3D and 2D shapes.

Y2 Use mathematical language to describe position, direction and movement.

Y3 Identify lines of symmetry.

Y4 Recognise shapes according to their symmetries.

Y5 Recognise parallel and perpendicular lines.

Y6 Calculate the perimeter and area of simple shapes.


Some forward planning will help make the most of children's experiences and will strengthen links between home and school. Set a walk in the park as homework one weekend. Ask children to record:

* the time they arrived and left;

* the time it took to walk around the park or a section of it;

* how many paces it took;

* the estimated circumference of a thick tree trunk;

* the estimated height of a tree;

* 2D and 3D shapes they saw.

When discussing the results, look out for the differing responses which might prompt discussion on the value of standard measures. Measure the pace of three different children and talk about ways of making accurate measurements.

Not every pupil will get to the park. If you can, take some photographs of the park, ahead of time. Working in pairs, children can look for features they recognise and describe where they are. How precisely can they pinpoint the locations? (The pond is to the right of the cafe.) How many shapes can they see in a picture? How many other shapes did they see on their walk? Name them.

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