I was supposed to be writing a blog about practical maths as an alternative to workbooks and worksheets. The blog got ambushed by Outdoor Classroom Day when 1 million children across the globe abandoned their indoor classrooms and headed for the great outdoors. I knew about forest schools but this was my first experience of Outdoor Classroom Day.

The mood amongst staff and children was one of contagious enthusiasm and Twitter was awash with inspiring pictures and reports of the activities that were undertaken. One mother reported that her young daughter had not stopped talking about her day from the moment she was collected from school, and on waking the next morning her first comment was ‘Mummy I forgot to tell you….’, and relayed more details of what she had enjoyed most.

The NCETM describes the advantages of learning maths outside as follows:

  • higher levels of motivation
  • almost limitless resources
  • an opportunity to see maths as cross-curricular
  • greater curiosity leading to more effective exploration
  • creative ideas driving investigations
  • meaningful application of problem solving strategies and thinking skills
  • a heightened sense of purpose and relevance
  • the all important bridge between theory and reality
  • greater independence and an improved attitude to learning
  • greater enjoyment and achievement (one of the five Every Child Matters outcomes)
  • a realisation that our environment offers opportunities for learning and enjoyment

Learning mathematics outside the classroom is not enrichment, it is at the core of empowering an individual’s understanding of the subject.

Excited by the possibilities, and with my mind buzzing I started searching online and immediately came across Juliet Robertsons’ website, which is packed full of teaching ideas for outside. I also noticed her Facebook page which invited teachers to contribute ideas for Tudor maths games and activities. Here was a challenge I was ready to tackle! So I created Fill it or Spill it a game to encourage children to think about strategy, capacity and overflow! Try it out and tell me what you think- and check out some of the other ideas on Julia’s site.

Fill It or Spill It – give our new game a go!

This activity was inspired firstly by Outdoor Classroom Day 2017 and then by Juliet Robertson’s fantastic site for outdoor learning activities. I hope it will be useful to teachers and parents alike who believe as I do that maths becomes real when embedded in practical activities.

You will need

A bucket for each child who wants to play

A collection of 6 different sized containers, all smaller than the bucket.

A 1-6 dice

Access to a water tap

Plenty of outdoor space

Before you start

Number the containers 1-6, according to how much liquid they hold, with 1 holding the least water and 6 holding the most. Mark a line just below the rim of each of the buckets. When there is enough water in the bucket to touch this line the bucket is full.

Aim of the game:

To be the first to fill your own bucket or cause your opponent’s bucket to overflow. The game finishes when this happens.

How to play
  • Roll the dice to decide who goes first. The player with the higher number starts.
  • Player 1 then rolls the dice, fills the corresponding numbered container with water and empties it into a bucket
  • Player 2 has a go, rolls the dice, chooses the corresponding container, fills it with water and empties this into a bucket
  • Keep playing until a player wins. A player wins if

    –  their own bucket is filled, by themselves or by their opponent

    –  they make their opponent’s bucket overflow (or spill!)

To begin with players will probably want to fill their own bucket. They will also have to fill their container from the tap. However as the game proceeds players may choose to empty their container into their opponents bucket to try and make it overflow. Or they may wish to fill their container from their opponent’s bucket, stealing their water!


Try using a different range of containers; is the game better if you play with some very small containers and some very large containers?

Does it help to know how much your bucket holds?

Does the game work if players have different sized buckets?

Is it helpful to know how much water each container holds?

If you know how much each container holds, could it help to keep a running total of how much water is in your bucket?

Is the game better if the fill line on the bucket is closer to the rim?