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Mathematics and nature – what are we going to discover today?

I am the mom of two little boys. Recently a child psychologist told me that they each crave my attention. Just mommy-and-me time – each on their own. So I started making times where I would just drive into nature an we discover things together.

Although nature and e.g types of trees and leaves are more a Biology thing I realised that leaves also have patterns, cones and stones have shapes, etc. So I did a 3-in-1: special mommy time, learning about nature (and just relaxing in nature) and learning about the thing in nature (which can by tied to Maths…).

They also “learn Maths when I e.g. say. ” Look! On your LEFT-HAND-SIDE there are two horses! Which hand is your left hand? The one that can make a L.” (And the I show the L with my one finger and thumb on my left hand)

We live in the beautiful town of Stellenbosch where we have the Eersterivier (“First River”) and the Jonkershoek Road and the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve (and a lot of horse farms, wine farms, etc.)

The things that the “karnalie” and I notice in Stellenbosch….

(1) Stones in the Eersterivier

  • Different colours (grouping)
  • They all change colour if they were dry and you put them in the water
  • Different sizes (size) (grouping)
  • Some were REALLY heavy and some were really light (concepts: heavy and light)
  • Some were round and some were flat (shapes)
  • Most of them had round edges (shapes)
  • If you move a lot of stones to the side the water flows better in the middle and the water gets deeper (volume)
  • The bridge is above my head. It is higher up than me (distance / length / height / compare)

Eersterivier HangbrugRivier met klippeklippe rond gekleurd

(2) On the fences people grow bougainvilleas


  • The pink leaves are heart-shaped (shapes)
  • It has 1, 2 or 3 little white flowers in the middle (numbers) (concept: middle)

(3) The other name for Stellenbosch is Eikestad because of all the oak trees (“Eikebome”)…

oak treedownload

  • Oak trees can be very young or very old (time: years)
  • They can be short or very tall (length)
  • They have many branches that branch into other branches (numbers) (patterns)
  • The colour of the leaves change with the seasons. In the Spring and Summer it is green. In Autumn it changes to yellow, red and brown. When it is brown it fall to the ground. (time: seasons)
  • During winter trees as “naked” (no leaves) but they are not dead. They are resting and getting ready for spring.
  • We see lots of squirrels running up and around oak trees. They eat the acorns.
  • An acorn has a ball or a cone shape. (shapes)
  • Oak leaves divide into different parts and looks as if the sides are full of gaps – sort of finger-shaped. (patterns)

(4) Everywhere in South Africa we see Blue Gum trees / Eucalyptus trees (“Bloekombome”)


  • The ones we see in Stellenbosch are VERY old. (time: years)
  • They have VERY thick main branches, i.e. very larges circumferences (shapes) (length)
  • Their leaves are pointy. (shapes)
  • They’ve got that distinct eucalyptus smell
  • The bark cracks and comes off. Then the main branches change colours. They can be whitish, reddish or brownish. (time: seasons)
  • The bark has a very rough feel to it.
  • Where it has peeled it feels smooth.

(5) Pine trees and pine cones!!!

pine 1  pine 2 pine 3

  • There are lots of old, humongous pine trees in Stellenbosch. Each morning we pass a lot of them as we drive on the R44 on our way to school. They are VERY TALL. (height) (time: years)
  • There are also lots of them in the Stellenbosch neighbourhoods and in Jonkershoek.
  • It’s fun to stop on the side of the Jonkershoek Road and look for “treasure” – i.e. pine cones that are undamaged. (numbers – counting)
  • We saw some closed pine cones (as in the last pic) but most of them were already open and have lost their pine seeds (as the pic in the middle shows). (shapes)
  • They make great home decorations or you can burn it in the fireplace.

(6) In our own back garden we’ve got eight Italian Cypresses


  • These trees grow straight up and are very tall. (height)
  • Their leaves have complicated branching system (patterns)
  • The leaves feel rough not soft
  • There are male and female trees.
  • The females’ branches are more thorny and they make cones that are ball-shaped. (shapes)

(7) Fences…

(A) Daddy’s fence [rectangles] (He works for Betafence) vs “not daddy’s fence” (chain link) [diamonds] (shapes)

febce beta  vs  fence chain-link

(B) Brick walls (smaller rectangles with lines on solids) vs Vibacrete walls (long rectangles) (shapes) (patterns)

fence brick  vs.  fence vibacrete

(C) Palisades vs balustrades

pence pallisade  vs.  balustrade

(8) The beautiful Stellenbosch mountains….

As we drive out of Welgevonden onto the R44 we see the Simonsberg (direction – driving) (distance) (height)

berg simonsberg

When we drive on the R44 we see Papegaaiberg to our right….

And then there is also the Stellenbosch mountains, Jonkershoek mountain, Drakenstein mountain and the Twin Peaks.


(9) Car logos 

Being boys…..they are always interested in cars! They started memorising car names by looking at the logos:

BMW is a circle with 4 triangles in it – 2 white and 2 blue (or half white, half blue) (shapes) (numbers) (fractions)

Mercedes has a circle with 3 “sticks” in it…

Chevrolet has a cross…

Audi has 4 circles…


car logos

  • Another “car game” we played was to figure out which car colour is the most common. My oldest son guessed white. So we checked out all the passing cars and most were white! So in essence we actually did an informal survey and drew conclusions!

(10) Number plates

As they are still young I can’t play the “Add the numbers as quick as you can on the number plate on the car in front of you” game. But I’ll quickly show you how it works…. It’s basically a number bonds of 10 game.


(4 + 6) + (3 + 7) = 10 + 10 = 20


(1 + 9) + (4 + 6) + (3 + 9) = 10 + 10 + 12 = 32

(11) Rain clouds or not? And cloud shapes…

When we drive home from school we look at the clouds and decide whether we can expect rain or not. The drought is terrible and we have been saving water like crazy. So we are thankful if it rains at night. Our garden needs every drop. Shapes of clouds. Rainy clouds (big and gray) vs. non-rainy clouds (flat and white)

rainclouds  vs.  AppleMark  and cloud heart


  • The most important thing in the world is to make a little time to spend with your child.
  • You can learn a lot from the stuff around you.


Always use Thinking Tools

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