Have fun doing maths in the sun!

Have fun doing maths in the sun!

At our yearly family gathering, last weekend, my lovely cousin Pru brought with her a number of garden games for us all to play. The children, in particular, loved playing them and were really engaged, so I thought why not adapt some of these ideas for children to play at school?



hungry hippo


Skateboards, plastic containers, plastic balls plus score-board or clipboard and pens (if keeping score).

The object of the game  –  The team who collect the most balls (or have the highest score) wins.

Promotes –  Collaboration, turn-taking, physical development (hand/eye coordination, balance and core strength) and problem-solving.

How to play

  • One person lays on the skateboard whilst their partner holds their legs, in order to push them backwards and forwards.
  • The person on the skateboard has to capture as many balls as possible, from the pile in the middle, using a box or container.

Maths Learning objectives:  Quantity/Number – counting the balls to find who has most / least.

Addition – Balls can be numbered; e.g. white balls – 0 points, yellow balls – 1 point, blue balls – 2 points and orange balls – 3 points. (This can be differentiated up or down to meet the needs of all ability levels).

This game could also be adapted to practice multiplication and division facts –

  • Write multiplication/division questions on the balls.
  • Children to collect as many balls as they can,  in a short period of time,  then work out the answers to the questions, either individually or as a pair.

This activity will also support learning about FORCES.



Such a simple concept, yet it provided the children with hours of fun as they tried to knock one another off the balance boards. Pru made her own, as we were on grass, but you can find instructions for a similar board here, alternatively, you can buy them very cheaply online.


Lengths of foam, a wobble board,  stopwatch, clipboards and pens, if recording times.

The object of the game  –  The last person left standing wins.

Promotes –  Physical development – balance and coordination, as well as strength in the core, knees and ankles.  This is a great activity for children who require occupational therapy.

How to play

  • For younger children, the objective is just to stay on the board and knock their opponent off.  Adults can introduce a timer, if desired, to find out who remained on the board the longest and compare the longest/shortest period of time.
  • Older children can play the game in teams of 3 – taking turns in playing and recording the length of time taken.

Maths Learning objectives:  Time – Measuring length of time (minutes, seconds)  Compare (and sequence) intervals of time.  Data could be analysed to find out whether there was a difference in the performance between boys or girls.

This activity will also support learning about FORCES.



Kerplunk is a bit like Jenga in that it takes a certain amount of skill and dexterity to remove the sticks without letting the balls fall through.


Length of chicken wire, shaped into a cylinder, a receptacle for the balls to fall into (Pru used an adapted wooden crate),  long sticks and coloured plastic balls and clipboards and pens (if recording).

The object of the game  –  To have the least amount of balls at the end of the game.

Promotes – Problem-solving, hand/eye coordination, and spatial awareness.

How to play

  • Place all sticks through the wire (in different directions and angles) then place the balls on top.
  • Children take turns in pulling out a stick. If any balls drop through they remove them and add them to their pile.
  • The winner is the person with the least balls.

Maths Learning objectives:  

Quantity/Number – counting to find who has most / least balls.

Addition – Balls can be numbered; e.g. white balls – 0 point, yellow balls – 1 point, blue balls – 2 points and orange balls – 3 points.   The number of coloured balls can be increased or decreased, dependent on the age/ability of the children).  Children can work together in pairs to find the total number of points scored to find the winner.

Set the children a Challenge – After playing the basic game, encourage children to create and write their own rules then play the game with one another.

This activity will also support learning about FORCES.



Battleships is a real-life, practical example of how to use, and plot, coordinates.  This is a game for two players (or teams of 2/3 children) and can easily be adapted for different age groups by changing the size of the grid (and boats), as the more squares there are – the harder it is to play.    This is a great way to teach co-ordinates in a fun and exciting way. The placement of the boats (photos 1 and 2) along with the accompanying grid sheet (photo 3) help children to understand how to find and plot coordinates.


Grids can be created on a hundred square or made, on the playground, using chalk or sticks. Alternatively grids can be created on 2 large sheets.  A free-standing or hanging divider is needed to stop players from seeing their opponents grid.   You also need coloured pieces of card (or wood) of different lengths, to create the ships, clipboards, pens and score sheets.

The object of the game  –  To sink your opponent’s battleships.

Promotes – Critical thinking skills – logical, strategical and analytical thinking.

How to play

  • Each player places their own ships on their grid (vertically or horizontally NOT diagonally). See Photos 1 and 2 
  • Each player marks the placement of their ships in the MY SHIPS section of the score sheet.  See Photo 3
  • Players take turns calling out coordinates e.g. E7.
  • Players call out either ‘Miss’ or ‘Hit’ after each given coordinate. Each player fills in the OPPONENTS SHIPS section of the grid sheet. See photo 3
  • The winner is the first to identify and ‘sink’ all their opponents battleships.


  • Players/teams can take turns firing salvo’s – 5 shots at a time. Hits and misses are marked on the grid as before.
  • As each ship is sunk the number of rounds in the salvo decreases. After the first ship is sunk the rounds in the salvo decreases to 4, after the next is sunk – to 3 and so on.

Maths Learning objectives: Co-ordinates – Identify positions on a 2d grid as co-ordinates. Describe positions on a 2d grid as co-ordinates. Mark positions on a 2d grid.

IMG_7151     IMG_7150

                    Photo 1                                                                        Photo 2

Battleship sheet

                 Photo 3


Getting out of the classroom, particularly to play games that are engaging and fun, makes teaching, and learning, easier and more enjoyable which leads to higher levels of involvement and engagement. Another good reason is that children are leading sedentary lives, fuelled by technology, and have less opportunity, than those of previous generations, to play freely outside of school.

School’s who have harnessed the power of play have been impressed with the benefits for both pupils and teachers.

The Natural Connections Demonstration Project (2012-2016), commissioned by Natural England, provided fantastic evidence on the positive benefits of learning outside the classroom, for children, teachers and schools as a whole. It was overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of teachers saying that it improved curriculum delivery,  improved behaviour and the health and well-being of everyone involved!

Never done this before? Here are a few ways to get you started!

Start with a group of children say, who are struggling with coordinates. Take them outside to play battleships.  The practical nature of the game would ensure that they are better able to understand and achieve the learning objective whilst the competitive aspect, along with the novelty of playing outside, would ensure that they remember the experience thereby retaining key information for longer.

Many schools still have GOLDEN TIME on a Friday afternoon. Why not set up some of these games for the children to play?  You could start with one activity such as Hungry Hippos. You can just imagine the children all clamouring to have a turn! They get to have a great time whilst having key concepts reinforced.

Get parents involved and let them know about the benefits of learning outside.  Arrange a maths workshop and set up some of the games for them to play with their children?  I can guarantee that they will all have great fun and will better understand how key concepts can be delivered through through play.

Have a think about other games that are normally played inside and how you can adapt them for outdoors.

Above all HAVE FUN!

1 comment

  1. Thanks for some brilliant ideas Jackie. ..a great way to get both the little kids (and the big ones!!) Spending some quality time together…away from their devices and having fun in the sun!!

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