Waldorf Education was developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919. The essence of this method of teaching is for teachers to present education as fun, creative, active and a learning experience based on experiencing the subject. In mathematics, it highlights basic mathematical principles and operations without stressing on the mechanical aspects of write and learn.
Waldorf techniques for teaching math take into account the overall involvement and development of one’s senses in connection with a topic. While basic and non-Waldorf techniques rely on pencil, paper and memorizing methods, Waldorf math endeavors to make the child reason the mathematical problem unconsciously through the approach of songs, music , dance, games, drawing, coloring and fun techniques. Not only does it incorporate activities of the five basic senses but uses colors to sharpen the senses, music and movement to appeal to the spirit of the child and art forms to bring out varying forms of expression.
# 1. Musical and Song Expressions of Math:
Basic math concepts like number names or 10’s series may be learned through song and dance form, with each child representing a number.
a) For example, one song for number names goes as:
Let us learn to spell, numbers one to ten
O N E – 1, you have learned it well
T W O is 2 and surely you
Can spell 3, T H R E E.
F O U R, that is number 4
F I V E – 5, is the next to know,
Don’t go any farther, for we are half way there
Learning how to spell, numbers 1 – 10
S I X that is number 6
S E V E N – that is number 7
E I G H T is 8 and you will see
8 is a number and also means to eat.
N I N E – is the number 9
T E N – 10 is the last of them
Don’t you think it’s easy, learning how to spell
1, 2 3, 4 , 5
6, 7 8, 9, 10.
b) 10’s series’ song
If you want to count in 10’s
As every number ends,
You will find a zero (0)
If you want to count in tens.
10, 20, 30, 40
50, 60, 70
80, 90, 100 (one hundred)
That’s how you count in tens.
c) Repetitive Number Songs for Toddlers
1, 2, 3
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
I know, I know, five numbers now.
# 2. Artistic Expressions of Math
Children hate it (too strong an emotion for a child to begin schooling experiences with that block free thinking) when they are drilled to read and write and write and read in mechanical fashions. They do not intend to hate it, but it is an automatic response to force. A child’s brain is a sponge that absorbs senses and signals in jumbled codes, and parents and teachers have to train a child on how to convert these signals to the right expressions of learning concepts and operations. Not all children respond the same way, and while one approach of teaching may work for one, it may not necessarily work for another child.
Colors brighten the senses and sharpen the mind. This is a known scientific fact and psychologists and counselors have made use of this knowledge to reach out to children. Similarly the Waldorf approach too uses this principle to teach children mathematical principles.
For example, the child has to learn how to write the numbers 1 to 10. You may dot the numbers, you may drill it strictly into a child, you may use all forms of teaching and get the child to finally learn to write, but whether the child has experienced and enjoyed these numbers might not always balance well on this equation.
Use the Waldorf method. Teach a child to write by making the child draw pictures. Teach a child to draw a candle. The first step is to draw one standing line followed by another standing line and marked off by two small sleeping lines at the top and the bottom with a scribble of a circle as the fire on top. Color the picture. It is artistic, expressive and a delight to see, for the child has enjoyed art class instead of math class. On the contrary, the child has unconsciously developed the knack for writing # 1 by practicing the standing lines.
The child may be taught to draw a duck or a swan facing left in order to learn the number two. A snake may be drawn for number 3, a boat for number 4, an apple for number 5, a clown’s face for number 6 and so on. Each number follows a drawing pattern based on the shape of the number and additional details added to it after that. When drawing a duck, the first stroke would be the outlining of the number 2 followed by the markings for the head, neck, body, etc.
# 3. Games
Games may be used to teach children basic mathematical operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Divide the class into teams. Spread them around the room. Each team represents a mathematical problem to be solved with values/digits attached to each child. Using a number line system of children spaced out on number placemats across the floor, the team may deduct the answer by enacting the problem.
For example. 2 + 2 = 4
Team 1 organize themselves by standing on number mats on the floor. One stands on zero (0), while the rest stand in order from 1, 2, 3 4 and so on. For the problem 2+2, the person standing at zero may first take two steps (to join the child at number 2) and then jump another 2 steps indicating an increase of 2 in the problem to land at place 4. Children find this fun and this exercise helps to memorize facts easily. They begin to understand that + or addition means and increase, and that subtraction means a decrease which lessens the total value.
Ideally, every teacher should be trained in the art of teaching children the Waldorf way. It could be English, Math, Science or Arts & Humanities, with the basic underlining principles the same for all; creativity, movement, personal involvement of children in a subject, use of teaching aids like sand tray, bean bags, abacus, beads, play dough, crayons, place mats, and musical instruments or a music player. There is no fixed rule, but just one basic principle; get the child totally involved in the subject mentally, physically and on a personal level.