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Inside, Outside, Upside Down- The Joy of a Hollow Log

Guest blogger: Diann Gano, M.Ed.

“Look! Look! A log with a hole in it! Can we climb in it?” Our hike had come to a complete halt as the children gazed at the length of the hollowed out tree branch. This wonderful hollow log was just calling for investigation! Being the crazy math girl that I am I knew that we could play our way through plenty of geometrical vocabulary words and phrases as we explored this log. We had also just had a new student join our program and this beautiful, crisp, morning in nature created the perfect setting to bond new friendships, share our learning style with parents and enjoy the calmness of the outdoors!

Late fall and winter is a great time to find these special places in the woods. This spring and summer the same log was covered in foliage and poison ivy. Yikes! Fall and winter offer different views of forest areas and tend to be a good time to introduce children to nature if it is not a part of their daily lives. There are fewer bugs, the children are wearing more layers of clothing to protect them from scrapes and new sensory experiences and we don’t worry as much about poison ivy. We are often asked, as a nature based preschool, what we do all day? How do they learn? Well, we go on adventures and discover math gold mines like this hollow log!

Physical play like this allows mathematical phrases to become understood easily and naturally without worksheets and manipulatives. When a child can climb through a cylinder shape, the word through makes a lot more sense. So of course we allow our friends to explore by going through, and climbing on top of, to look down below. These spatial relationships, where something is located in relationship to something else, are essential to math in the later years. This log play invited us to use many of these concepts as the children explored:

  • inside, outside
  • in front of, in back of, behind
  • low, high
  • above, below
  • across
  • on top of

Understanding spatial relationships helps children talk about where things are located. This strengthens their understanding of these concepts as they use the vocabulary words repeatedly throughout their play! Geometric shapes are a kindergarten common core standard and when we actually play with and in our shapes, the learning becomes deeper, more intentional and relevant.

“It looks like the inside of that slide at the park!” remarks Avery, as she immediately leads the pack through the open branch. “The tube slide!” agreed Violet. And from there, the comparisons and learning took over. As I introduce the word cylinder, they continue to share other concepts and ideas of what this hollow log reminds them of. We discuss cans and batteries and toilet paper rolls, which naturally brings roars of laughter, because when you are four there is nothing funnier than a toilet paper roll! Recognizing shapes is a math concept that for many young children will come before numeric skills. When we return to the block area later in the week, the word cylinder not only returns but suddenly we are re-creating our hike with blocks. The children build bridges and trees and paths and of course, there by the side of the trail, right where it should be is a cylinder. The hollow tree branch that brought a whole morning of geometric exploration through age appropriate play, will be a source of math intelligence that will be retrieved many times throughout their lives.



Diann Gano, M.Ed.

Diann Gano—who opened her family child care program, Under the Gingko Tree in 1986—has long believed that "the earth gives us what we need to learn" and that nature is "the perfect environment for little brains to grow and learn in every day." While conducting research for her master’s thesis on outdoor learning in early childhood settings, she learned about the Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, which recognizes schools and other organizations that have made a commitment to providing outdoor classrooms and comprehensive programming to help children use the natural world as an integral part of learning. She enrolled in the Nature Explore Classroom certification program after completing her master’s degree in 2010, and Under the Ginkgo Tree was certified as a Nature Explore Certified Outdoor Classroom Program in 2011. A member of the Erikson Family Child Care Portal Project Advisory Board, Gano has also participated in the Erikson Institute’s Early Childhood Leadership Summit and served as a webinar panelist for Town Square Illinois, an online resource and professional development tool for home-based providers. She has presented at the local, state and national levels on topics such as indoor and outdoor learning environments, the importance of loose parts in early math education and the impact of immersion in the natural world on brain development in young children. In 2016, Gano was honored as a recipient of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Child Care Innovator Award for creating a school environment that inspires children to become more active and engaged learners. In May 2019, she received the prestigious Terri Lynn Lokoff/Children’s Tylenol National Teacher Award, which honors 50 outstanding early child care professionals across the nation each year for making a lasting difference in the lives of the children they serve and setting them on a path to success in school and in life. She received her BS in liberal arts from Western Illinois University and her MEd in education from St. Mary of the Woods College in Indiana.

Read more posts by Diann Gano, M.Ed.

8 Replies to “Inside, Outside, Upside Down- The Joy of a Hollow Log”

  1. Introducing math during outdoor play sounds exciting. Although, we don’t have a wooded area nearby I will give it a try on our playground and maybe when we walk to the park.

  2. i love the hollow log idea.. we can have children measure its length, how many can fit it in, and find different ways of measuring it. this will surly get the children imaginations running

  3. I like the concept of bringing these concepts outside. Even if there is not a forest there are opportunities for children to go through, under and over things in their neighborhood.

  4. Hadn’t really thought of spacial recognition with math, like above, below, beside, and on top. Till I thought about it as understanding how to line up numbers for addition, multiplication division etc. Always liked math but never thought about understanding those terms as a building block for math skills.

  5. What a great and fun activity to teach spatial terms, ideas, and awareness to children. Using a tunnel in the school play yard or classroom would be a good substitute for the log, but not nearly as fun or memorable for the children.

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