Is Outdoor Play the Answer to Boys’ “Poor” Primary School Maths Performance?

Is Outdoor Play the Answer to Boys’ “Poor” Primary School Maths Performance?
Boy incorrectly decisive simple mathematical example

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Is Outdoor Play the Answer to Boys’ “Poor” Primary School Maths Performance?

A lot of pressure is put on young children from a very early age. In particular, mathematics and science are introduced at a stage when boys are prone to lack the maturity present in their female counterparts. For this reason, boys are deemed to be lagging behind and not reaching their full academic potential. But could this all be down to the way early years maths is handled?

Boy incorrectly decisive simple mathematical example

Educational experts never fail to stress the importance of school playground equipment. It is only government targets that prevent teachers from incorporating more outdoor experiences in their lessons plans. Early years assessments mean children are sitting at desks and answering test questions far earlier than is strictly necessary. Because of this, it should come as no surprise that young boys are struggling to develop the required learning mindset at the expected rate.

Where Has the Gender Divide Come From?

In truth, while girls tend to lead the field in subjects such as reading and writing, when it comes to maths, the discrepancy between genders is very slim. There is only a 3.3% difference in boys failing to reach expected standards compared to girls, but this tiny margin becomes overshadowed by the much more obvious divide in literacy. In fact, if anything, these statistics have steadily improved over the years.

Unfortunately, the department of education sees these numbers and decides that teachers aren’t doing enough (even though the results are based solely on children in the first two years of education). Inevitably, this leads to extra pressure on both teachers and children to improve their grades, changing the way we view early years progress.


Since boys develop at a completely different rate to girls, there is always bound to be a gap in their academic performances somewhere along the line. Instead of criticising the practitioners who work hard to provide their pupils with the learning opportunities they deserve, perhaps it’s time we rethink the way primary school numeracy is taught.

How Can Outdoor School Playground Equipment Help?

While outdoor play is included in the Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum, it is not a major part of core subjects like maths. In most circumstances, outdoor play is relegated to lunch breaks and PE lessons — neither of which allow children to explore subject matter. Though it’s worth stating that outdoor learning is becoming more common in schools, it is still not as revered as formal lessons.

But the benefits of using school play equipment for learning purposes is strongly acclaimed. Where traditional teaching practices only permit children to complete set tasks, outdoor play encourages them to think outside the box. Simple ideas such as counting and measuring, which, on paper, can be tricky for young children to get their heads around, are brought to life by the use of sand tables, mud kitchens, and trim trails for schools.

It’s no secret that free play is a crucial part of a child’s development and is the primary way they learn before school begins. School play equipment not only strengthens physical skills such as balance and motor movements, but also makes children’s minds sharper and more astute. In fact, most educational consultants agree that play should form the basis of learning activities up until the age of six or seven.

What’s clear, at any rate, is that too much emphasis is being placed on early years numeracy assessments and results. Boys may well be lagging behind in the eyes of the government, but by denying all children the opportunity to use school playground equipment as a learning accessory, we could be limiting them in their attempts to grasp the principles of basic mathematics.   

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