Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on July 20, 2020.
As some children continue to learn from home, maintaining their mathematical skills can be a challenge. Parents and caregivers may feel nervous about teaching maths to their children, and even hold onto some maths anxiety themselves.
It’s okay to take a simple approach to maths teaching using objects and environments at home. Have you considered that gardening can be an easy and effective way to help your child connect with mathematical concepts in a concrete and lasting way?
Here are four ways you can support teaching maths in the garden.
1. Invite your child to help with garden planning
Maths is everywhere! And your garden is no exception. Creating gardening maths activities can be as simple as taking notice of what you’re already doing.
Ready to plan your garden? Start by breaking down the information you need. The planning stage of gardening is full of rich mathematical calculations like:
How much space do we have to plant?
How much soil will we need?
How much will it cost?
How far apart will we need to plant the different varieties of flowers or vegetables?
How many rows do we have space to plant? How many columns?
How much sunlight does this spot get? How much sun will our plants need?
To an expert gardener, these may seem like simple things you think about in passing. But they can easily become mathematical tasks you could get your child to help you with.
2. Ask your child to help you find the answers
You need information to get your garden going, and you have a helper ready to get it for you. Ask your child questions that will help you prepare for planting:
Can they measure the length and width of your garden?
Can they find the area?
If it’s a raised garden bed, can they find the height and the volume?
If they know the volume in cubic metres or centimetres, can they express it in litres?
If a standard bag of soil is 50 l and costs £12, can they tell you how many bags you’ll need to fill the garden bed?
Can they tell you how much the soil will cost overall?
Posing mathematical questions that are rooted in reality gives your child and opportunity to use their knowledge. When your child can see why they’re doing something, they develop a deeper conceptual understanding.
3. Challenge your child to find multiple solutions
If you think your child could go a bit further, ask them to plot out where to plant different varieties in your garden. Say you want to plant lettuce, beetroot and carrots — and they all need to be planted the following distances away from other plants:
- Lettuce should be planted at least 30 cm away from other plants
- Beetroot should be planted at least 10 cm away from other plants
- Carrots should be planted at least 5 cm away from other plants
With available garden space in mind, you can ask guiding questions like:
How many configurations could you have?
Could you plant 5 lettuce, 10 beetroot and 20 carrots?
Or could you plant more lettuce and fewer beetroot and carrots?
Ask your child to map it out, and come up with a few different answers. Finding more than one way to solve a problem will boost your child’s reasoning skills, allow them to explore maths for themselves and encourage creativity!
4. Continue learning by encouraging maths journaling
Keeping a garden is a great opportunity for your child to reflect on what they learned in an ongoing maths journal. For example, when your child thinks back on what they did to measure and plan the garden, you could ask:
Why did we need that information?
What did it help us do next?
When planting, they can keep a record of what, where, when and how many seeds were planted. Have them make estimations like:
How many plants do you think will grow?
What do you think the yield will be?
When harvesting, encourage them to refer back to their planting journal and compare.
Can they compare their estimations to the actual yield?
Can they compare the actual yield to the data they recorded when planting?
Can they tell you what percentage of seeds grew into plants?
How could they use their findings in the future?
Reflecting on their learning and answering open questions will help your child master mathematical concepts in depth. Explaining their thinking, getting creative and making connections to what they learned and why, all help to solidify mathematical understanding.
In short, learning maths at home doesn’t need to be complicated. Teaching mathematics can also be a part of teaching your child life lessons and skills, like how to plant a garden.
Learning maths in real-life contexts helps children form a connection with new information, and better understand how to apply it. So they won’t just understand what to do, they’ll understand why they’re doing it.