Active Arithmetic

Movement and Mathematics Teaching in the Lower Grades of a Waldorf School

Henning Andersen



Is it possible to teach arithmetic in the first years of school in such a way that the majority of pupils do not experience the lesson as a strain? Are there ways of practicing arithmetic that do not adversely affect a child’s zest for life . . . and still teach the subject well?

In many ways it was the answers to these questions that first engaged what became my passionate commitment to Waldorf education.  My own grade school struggles with arithmetic laid the foundation for a lifelong quest to find “a better way.”  When I discovered Rudolf Steiner’s lively approach to teaching mathematics with rhythm, art, even stories and song, it resonated so deeply in my heart that helping this approach to education move forward became my life’s work.

In my time, arithmetic was taught pretty much solely with pencil and paper along with some verbal and written examples from the teacher and textbooks.  I was not a child who found much joy in that, nor was I terribly interested in remembering abstract details for which I could find no connection in daily life.  I know that had I been taught using Waldorf methods, I would have come to love mathematics much earlier in life, and would have dreaded math class much less. 

Active Arithmetic describes the use of lively, rhythmic movement as part of the mathematics education in the early grades (grades 1-3, approximately).  Anyone who has seen these or similar exercises carried out in a classroom or homeschool knows the happiness they bring and can testify to the lifelong learning they foster. My own children, now adults, all still remember what I call the “body mnemonics” of the clapping, singing, dancing, and even game playing through which they were taught the basics of arithmetic. Comparing their experiences to my own is like comparing a gray, chilly day to a garden bathed in summer sunlight.  It’s small wonder that they understand arithmetic so very well, and remember it so accurately.

Active Arithmetic is an exciting resource that clearly describes much of what Waldorf education offers children in Grades 1-3.  I can’t recommend it highly enough for teachers and homeschoolers; I also recommend it for parents wishing to supplement their children’s more traditional math education.  Making learning fun is always a gain for all.

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