Home > A Level, Commentary, cross-curricular, Maths, Teaching > More maths in the playground

More maths in the playground

My daughter is now a little over two, and as such I spend quite a lot of time at children’s play parks and the amount of maths you can find there is incredible.

I’ve written along these lines before. From silly things, like the fact our local park was the only place I’ve seen with a simple abacus that’s set up for a base ten, rather than base 11, world. To the more intricate mechanics behind swings and roundabouts.

Today, however, it was this that got me thinking:


“A slide?” I hear you thinking. “Surely there’s nothing too mathematical about that? Gravity means you go down it.” Well in some respects you would be exactly right. However, we don’t live in a model world, and there is the question of friction.

Today the park was rather damp, it had been raining over night, so we took a towel to dry the slide. Once the slide was dry my daughter went down it, but at an incredibly slow speed and stopped about halfway down. I have always noted that the speed of the slide varies incredibly, and had assumed it was due to the coefficient of friction varying between different materials. Her cotton trousers provide a much faster slide than her jeans, for instance. But today she had denim on and it doesn’t normally stop halfway down. I then thought about another recent trip where the slide had seemed slow, and that day it had been particularly warm.

It got me thinking, does the temperature affect the coefficient of friction between two materials? Or perhaps it’s humidity that has an affect? A little bit of research leads me to believe that both can be contributing factors. Definitely more ammo for investigation in a mechanics school trip!

After the slide, she wanted a go on this:


As you can see, the local see saw is fairly basic and works best if two people of a similar mass are on each end (obviously we aren’t). It’s still easy enough to work, but it made me think about another local-ish park that has a much more complex see saw where there are 3 seating positions on each end. That gives more variability to the user’s and would mean two children of different mass could select positions,that give similar, but opposing, moments and hence work the see saw as well as if they had equal mass. What a fantastic idea, and a fantastic use of maths!

I love the amount of maths that is present at local playparks, and one day I do hope to take a mechanics trip (perhaps a cross curricular one with physics) to investigate all these things. It would be awesome to make a TV show around it. Perhaps I’ll make my own Numberphile – esque video on it one day!

  1. October 30, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Who says teachers switch off at half term!?

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