Mathematics is the science of patterns, and nature exploits just about every pattern that there is.
— Ian Stewart
This profound quote illustrates the connection between math and nature. Nature supplies us with wondrous examples of math: the hexagon of a honeycomb, the spiral of a seashell, or the symmetry of a butterfly’s wing.
A child who is strong in mathematical/logical intelligence is able to recognize these patterns in nature and make mathematical connections. Howard Gardner identifies mathematical/logical intelligence as the ability to problem solve logically, detect patterns, and strong reasoning skills. A child skilled in mathematical/logical intelligence may enjoy sorting and classifying. He may ask a lot of how and why questions. She may enjoy playing math games and solving math problems.
We can help children develop stronger skills in math and logic by engaging in the outdoors. As you take a step outside, discover the mathematical wonders that nature offers. Looking for ways to enhance mathematical thinking outdoors? Here are 4 ways to enjoy the warming temperatures and enhance mathematical/logical intelligence at the same time:
- Observation: Take the time to really look at what nature has to offer. Look for how nature has mirror images such as the parts of a flower or the veins of a fallen leaf. Patterns are also prevalent in nature. Help the children discover these patterns in items such as the spirals of a sun flower or the outer skin of a pineapple. Spots and stripes are patterns in nature, what ones can you find in the outdoor classroom?
- Patterning: Once you have found patterns in nature, help the children create patterns of their own. Use nature items such as rocks, pinecones, stick, or leaves to create simple repeating patterns. You can also create a “Patterns in Nature” scavenger hunt.
- Sorting and Classifying: My son has always loved sorting and classifying objects. This love of sorting pairs well with his love of rock collecting. We have a large collection of rocks he has found or bought in rock shops and then smoothed and polished in a rock tumbler. When he was a preschooler, he loved to sort these rocks in various ways. Rocks are just one of many natural items that can be collected and sorted. The use of natural items also allows children to sort in many different and sometimes complex ways.
- Measuring: One of my favorite books on measuring is Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. This classic picture book is a great way to introduce measurement in the outdoor classroom. Grab some measuring tools such as a ruler, measuring tape, yarn, or even sticks to measure. On a sunny day, trace the outline of two different shadows and measure to see which one is larger. Another idea is to use a tape measure to see how big around different trees are.
Once you start observing nature you will see how “nature exploits just about every pattern that there is.”