This post is by regular contributor Debi Huang of Go Explore Nature.
My kids love digging in the dirt and sand. And treasure hunts? Well, they are just the icing on the cake. So when I suggested they go digging for buried treasure in our backyard sandpit, both of my sons (ages 9 and 6) were excited. And by combining some math activities with their treasure hunt the kids not only had the chance to pretend to be scientists, they also got to practice their math skills as well.
Digging for Buried Treasure
For this activity, you will need:
- A sand play area or a portable container to hold sand (such as a large plastic bin or tub)
- 10 to 20 “buried treasure” items such as rocks, sea glass or plastic animals
- Brush to dust off uncovered treasures (optional)
Before this adventure can begin, you’ll need to bury 10 to 20 treasures in the sand for your child to unearth during the activity.
Recommended age: 5+ years (the level of adult support will depend upon the age and development of the child)
1. Once the treasures are buried, invite your child to dig for buried treasure in the sand. You might want to offer a plastic shovel or sifter to use for the search, though bare hands work fine. Some children may want to use a small brush to wipe off uncovered items once they’re found.
Set aside each treasure until all have been discovered.
2. Ask your child to sort the treasures. Encourage your child to look closely at each of the items. You can suggest ways to sort (by type, shape, color or size), or leave that up to your little one. My 6-year-old decided to sort his rocks by color.
3. Tally up your sorted treasures. As appropriate, have your child write down the number of items in each sorted group as a numeral and/or a word.
4. Solve an equation – or have your child create one of his or her own. Here, we used sticks for math symbols. Without prompting, my son chose to write the number of items in each group before solving.
This activity would also be fun for learning about money. Instead of burying natural items, use coins. Children can then identify, sort, determine coin value and more.
If you’re looking for other math games to play outside, don’t miss:
Number Learning in Nature
Counting Items in Nature
Making Magical Mathematical Potions
Or check out our Learning Mathematically category for all of our playful math ideas.
What are some ways you have taken math learning outdoors?