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Using Math in Nature

Environmental education includes teaching about how natural environments function and how humans can impact the ecosystems in order to live in a more sustainable manner.

For young children, developing an appreciation of nature is one of the foremost principles in environmental education. Even in the city, you can find ways to learn about ecosystems from spiders, birds and plants. And of course there are many ways to combine math into your outdoor experience.

Size and Magnitude

Mt. BakerHelp your child develop an appreciation of size by finding references in nature that they can relate to. How long is your favourite hike? How high is Grouse Mountain? How far away is Mount Baker? How high is Mount Baker? How high is Mount Everest? What altitude do we live at from sea-level? How far away is the moon, the sun, the constellation of Orion? How long would that take to hike or drive there?

Look at smaller animals and objects as well. How small is a hummingbird? How small is a fly? How much do they weigh? What about a cell? What is the weight of an atom?

Make a log book for different measurements you've discovered or researched. Looking back at these numbers can lead into a wonderful explanation of decimals, fractions, exponents and logs.

Speed and Distance

You can also teach the concept of speed and distance by using alternate means of transportation to get to a location. How far away is the park? How long does it take to walk, run, bike or drive there?

Geese on a beachResearch the migratory patterns of birds. How far does a goose migrate? How long does it take? How fast do they fly?

Watch a snail moving across the ground. How long does it take him to travel 10cm, a meter. Estimate how long it would take to travel a kilometre or further. How long would it take to travel around the world if he could?


When you are out ask what is the temperature today? Does it change throughout the day? By how much? What is the average temperature for the day, week, month? What is the normal temperature? Record high and low for a given day?

Snowy mountainsWhere is the snow line? What is the temperature at the top of the mountain? Is the temperature different in higher elevations? Why?

Geometry and Angles

Shapes can be found all over nature — especially circles and spheres. How do you calculate the circumference and area of these objects. What is Pi? How do you think they discovered Pi? What is the perimeter of the park? Estimate the surface area of a mountain. What is the angle that the branch? Use trigonometry to measure the height of a tree.

Comparisons and Classification

You can always find ways to compare and contrast different things — mountain heights, depth of the water, sizes of bugs, high and low tide. Comparing animal traits also leads into taxonomy (the study of the principles of scientific classification).


And don't s forget to convert from metric to imperial or vice versa. What is farther 10 km or 6 miles? Practicing conversions of distance, temperature and volume is a good way to learn about formulas, practice arithmetic and learn how to use a calculator to check your answers.

More Measurements

Snake's tongueWe all love to hear interesting facts about animals or places — how high can a frog hop? How long is a snakes tongue? How big can he open his mouth? Compare these relatively to how high you could jump. How many legs in a centipede? How long does it take a slug to cross the road? How long does a fruit fly live?

Check out the book, If You Hopped Like a Frog, by David Schwartz for more interesting facts.

Combining math with nature is not only good for your child's environmental education, but it also helps them to make more sense of the natural environment around them. It becomes more real. Observing, researching and recording data helps them slow down and focus on the beauty around them. They are shown yet another way that math can be used to describe and interpret our wonderful world.