Grade 1: Four Processes Math Block


This post is a part of Waldorf Wednesday. See all the links here.

The math gnomes returned to our schoolroom after a complete fashion overhaul. They are looking slimmer and taller . . . oh wait, those are my fashion goals . . . anyway, they are looking pretty spiffy and arrived ready to get on with the show. Waldorf education introduces all 4 processes in grade 1, which I think makes a lot of sense. The other key to teaching Math in the Waldorf manner is to go from whole to parts. Instead of saying, “1 + 1 = 2” you would say, “2 = 1 + 1.” The reason  is because 2 can also equal 2 + 0, 2 x 1, 10 – 8, etc. Admittedly, I am NOT a numbers person (truth be told, I have not taken a math class since I was a junior in high school), but teaching math to both my boys this way has changed my relationship with the subject. I actually taught this block to Vincent when we first came to Waldorf. Although he was in grade 3, he was having a hard time. Melisa Nielsen (whose math book I highly recommend) suggested I go back and start at the beginning. This was wise counsel. We had so much fun and it allowed him to see numbers in a new way. Taking this time to build a solid foundation really made a difference in his aptitude with math.

For Jude, I adapted the squirrel story Donna Simmons offers in her Grade 1 Syllabus, and set up a simple tableau using a few wooden trees and lots of tiny pinecones (photo below). Four gnomes are gathered around a campfire chatting about what they could do to spruce things up in their little neck of the enchanted woods. They nominate Green Gnome to go off into the forest to collect 12 pinecones. So off he goes and collects 1+1+1+1+1 . . . until he has 12. He brings his cache back to his friends and they all rejoice. Watching these happenings from behind a tree is the great King Equals, who sees the hidden talent of this green gnome. He appears before the group and informs them they live in the Kingdom of Numeria over which he presides. He talks to green gnome about a special job that needs to be done. He presents him with a hat, embroidered with a special symbol and renames him “Plus Addition.”

I continued this story over three weeks. When blue gnome is sent to the forest, he gathers a huge pile of pinecones. But he gives some away, buries some, and loses some on the way back to camp. He is renamed “Minus Subtraction.” Yellow gnome wants to take 20 pinecones back, but she doesn’t want to make 20 trips. So she makes 4 groups of 5 pinecones and becomes “Times Multiplication.” And the kind-hearted red gnome who loves to share, she divvies up what she finds in the forest among her three friends and is renamed “Divide Division.”


  • Christopherus Grade 1 Syllabus, Donna Simmons
  • Path of Discovery: Grade One, Eric Fairman


  • Created a tableau to illustrate the story and assist in Jude’s retelling efforts.




  • Used a lot of fun manipulatives to work simple math problems. Cinnamon sticks were by far our favorite.
  • Skip counted using beanbags.
  • Modeled mathematical symbols in beeswax (see photo above). We used these in conjunction with our beeswax numbers to create easy problems to solve.


For more posts about grade 1 click the image below.


6 thoughts on “Grade 1: Four Processes Math Block

  1. Long time greetings. I haven’t been around because I’ve been staying up late late late thinking “math” and reading Melisa’s book. Thank you! Learning the 4 processes together makes so much sense. The girls and I were talking about it on our morning walk and I explained that’s how we already think about things. We used our favorite “m-n-m’s” examples and went through all 4 processes with the same 6 pieces of candy and the same 3 people as we walked(: I think it’s going to be a great fit.

    (I’ll also add that I think your story is sweet and lovable and that “loathe” is not too strong of a word for my feelings about Melisa’s gnome story. But my blood is getting a little bubbly, so I’m going to stop thinking about it now. Anyhow, we’ll be using something like yours (;

    I am so hoping that the actions, drawings and stories of the processes that Waldorf uses are going to be the ticket. Thank you for your gifts and reflections xox I am the grateful recipient of a mother’s wisdom who came to Waldorf two years before me with a then 3rd grader too (:

    • You want to know what is so funny (and I may have told you this before) I thought I was the LAST person who came to Waldorf – and that was one of my reasons for not wanting to start a blog. It was like everyone who was going to know about Waldorf, knew about it already. Oh, my little, little mind.

      I was also thinking about Christopherus – they have a second grade math book. I have it, but haven’t looked at it yet. I LOVE their grade 4 guide and am still using it in grade 5. I will try to thumb through the grade 2 one and let you know what I think.

  2. I really love your way. I, like Mama have an aversion to certain ways of teaching. Although I have the Christopherus first grade curriculum, the boy got a little bored before getting to the 4 processes, I think I will go back and look it over again. Your description is beautiful! Thank you! p.s. I started a new blog my old one was I wanted to break up the parenting anecdotes and the homeschooling ones. I would love to share this post by way of a link on my new blog if it’s OK with you :-)

    All the best,

    • Hey Jen,
      I will check it out. Link away, no problem.

      Do you have the older edition of the grade 1 syllabus by Christopherus (it is spiral bound) or the new one (it is in a binder). I really like the old edition – frankly the newer ones in the binders overwhelm me.

      Glad you liked this post – it was a lot of fun.


  3. Pingback: Learning Math Visually |

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