Exploring Math and Science in Your Own Backyard

I often share fun and engaging math stories that can be used to teach and explore all kinds of math topics, but the truth is, you can weave math learning into virtually any book you read with your kids! {Click to tweet!}

Exploring Math in Nature

*Please Note: This post contains affiliate links that support the work of this site. Read our full disclosure here.*

As an example, today I want to share a couple of new-to-us books that I (and my kids!) absolutely ADORE, and include some simple and fun ways you can use these to discuss important math and science concepts.

*If you want a fun resource for seeing math in nature, scroll to the bottom of this article for a FREE poster set!*


The first is the book, Winter Is Coming, by Tony Johnston. It is just a beautiful story of curiosity and the unique changes we see in the world around us as Fall passes away and Winter settles in. It is illustrated by Jim LaMarche, and the illustrations are stunning. Quite possibly, my favorite part!

There are ample opportunities for discussions with your kids as you read this together. Obviously, we see the changing seasons, and the changes to the trees and other vegetation as cooler temperatures arrive. But it is also an opportunity to discuss all the different forest wildlife that the young girl observes, as well as hibernation and how each of these animals cope with the coming of winter.

Fun and Simple Math Ideas:

Counting Animals: The girl observes numerous animals and it was fun for my kids to count how many of each type of animal she sees. You could also practice adding–how many birds does she see altogether?

Calendar: Take some time to look at the calendar and determine fall months and winter months. How many days are in each of the months in the story? If you use the “official” start dates of Fall and Winter, how many days are in each season? Are they equal?

Fun and Simple Science Ideas:

Nature Sketches: The girl in the story takes time to really observe the world around her and makes sketches of what she sees. Allow your kids to do the same! Encourage quiet patience as the observe, and ask questions about what they saw. Maybe find a place in your yard or neighborhood that they could sketch over an extended period of time to compare the changes. Want an easy way to document findings? Print some of these free nature journals!

Hibernation: Read about hibernation with your kids and explain what is really going on when a bear (or other animal) hibernates, and what preparation is necessary before Winter comes! {There’s an excellent The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That video to teach about winter and hibernation, my kids love it!}

Changing Leaves: Trees change a lot as the seasons change, but why? What happens to the tree to make the leaves change colors? To make the transition from budding flowers to bearing fruit? There’s lots of fun science to explore!

Another book that we have been reading frequently around here is As an Oak Tree Grows, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

As an oak tree grows

This is another beautifully illustrated book that not only tells the story of a small acorn and it’s growth into a majestic oak tree, but gives a glimpse into the passing of time and the changes a forest can see as civilization settles in. This unique tale begins in the year 1775 and displays the way our world can and has changed over the last 200+ years.

Obviously, this story gives kids a glimpse at the shifting of populations and the changes that have occurred in jobs, transportation, energy and more, from the perspective of one small farm and it’s oak tree. But again, there are lots of great ways to incorporate math and science concepts as well!

Fun and Simple Science Ideas:

Changing Seasons: Again, this story shows various seasons in the life of the oak tree. You can use this to observe and discuss differences in the tree throughout the year, and other signs in nature that point to changing seasons.

Acorn to Oak Tree: The process of a small acorn transforming into a mighty oak is fascinating! Read more about acorns, what they need to grow and how they change as they begin to transform into a tree. {Better yet, watch the germination process with your own seeds!}

*Here are some other fun stories that discuss the change from acorn to  oak tree: Acorn to Oak Tree, by Lisa Harrington, or Acorn to Oak Tree (LifeCycles), by Camilla de la Bedoyere, and The Oak Inside the Acorn, by Max Lucado*

Fun and Simple Math Ideas:

Counting rings on a tree stump: Explore your neighborhood to try and find a tree stump to study. Explain that the rings in a tree indicate the age of the tree, and discuss the correlation between the diameter and the number of rings (i.e. the older the tree, the more rings, and therefore, the wider the tree will be).

Measurement: If you have a tree stump or two in your yard or neighborhood, grab a tape measurer and measure the diameter and circumference of the tree stumps. Or, if you can’t find a tree stump, measure the circumference of various trees in your yard and let your kids estimate the age of the tree and discuss which trees are the oldest/youngest, etc.

Create “tree rings” with a compass:

Creating Tree Rings with a Compass

We used a simple chalk compass to practice drawing concentric circles, but a regular compass and paper would do! Let your kids create varying amounts of “rings” and compare the sizes. Measure the radius or diameter as it “grows!”

My kids had so much fun playing with our chalk compass, drawing circles to make rings (even though ours were FAR from perfect, concentric circles), and then counting to see how old their “tree” would be!

Creating Tree Rings with a Compass2

After drawing a few different “trees,” we compared them and counted the rings. We then compared the size of our chalk rings to some small trees in our yard. Based on our (again, not at all accurate) drawings, my kids estimated our little tree to be three years old. 🙂

There’s so much math and science, like ELISA testing and results, to explore and learn about science out in the forest (or in your own backyard)! Want more activities to do with your kids as you read forest or woodlands stories? Check out all the posts that link up to this months book club, “Poppins Book Nook” at Enchanted Homeschooling Mom! I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading!


  1. Thanks for all the ideas and all the time you took to put together those resources! That’s so helpful. I totally want that chalk compass.

  2. Yes, it is so great Michelle! Although we did go through quite a bit of chalk, haha! I’m going to have to stock up when the back to school sales start! 😉 Glad you found this helpful! I had a lot of fun gathering all these ideas and resources!

    1. Thanks so much Alison! My kids love these books, so I want to extend their learning through them as much as possible! 🙂

  3. I just love your site!
    The ideas you create help to make teaching and learning so much more fun. I am new to the home schooling “scene”, but I must say that this is one of the best journeys that me and my grand daughter have been on thus far.
    The freebies are also great for this Nana on a tight budget!
    Thanks so much!

Comments are closed.

Similar Posts