Trying out Math by Hand, the Waldorf-Inspired Math Kits

This past spring I shared about a typical day in our French homeschooling life and a reader (merci, Shannon!) told me about Math By Hand, a Waldorf-inspired curriculum created by Marin Lipowitz here in the USA. Waldorf instruction focuses on hands-on activities, bodily movement, drawing, construction, and play. I was intrigued by the idea of math learning kits that revolve around crafts and activities--aren't you? My children and I tried out the initial kit for first grade and here's what we found:

Math By Hand Waldorf Math Curriculum Kit 1 Grade Review Contents

The initial kit comes with colored paper, a needle & thread, chalk, small felt squares, crayons, and a lightweight binder outlining the ideas and stories useful for teaching number forms. I had previewed the kit online, but I was still fairly surprised that the materials provided were so basic. However, everything was of good quality--I keep the crayons in my purse now because they're thicker and more vivid than the breakable crayons provided in restaurants.

The title page from the Math By Hand: Number Forms guide

The title page from the Math By Hand: Number Forms guide

The written guide is more overarching and conceptual rather than featuring day-by-day lesson plans. It explains not just how to teach the concepts presented, but why the concepts matter and how they originated. There are carefully hand-drawn illustrations to accompany the ideas, but overall the guide is fairly text-heavy, with double-spaced paragraphs in large font.

A sample page from the guide for Math By Hand kit 1, grade 1  

A sample page from the guide for Math By Hand kit 1, grade 1  

Though the guide is brief (7 pages, front and back), I honestly found it a little intimidating at first because the ideas are presented in a fluid, free-form way.  I'm more of a concrete sequential thinker, so it took me a week or two to work up the courage to turn the conceptual guidelines into concrete activities. If you are already familiar with Waldorf instruction, you will find the guide and ideas more accessible.

Math by hand waldorf teaching guide first grade math

My daughter didn't have any interest in hearing the fairy tales (probably because we have read so many before), but she and I found the brief history of number forms fascinating! It's strange that our educational systems omit teaching the origins of the digit forms (chiffres) that we use. Reading Marin's history of the forms inspired me to learn more about their history online, and I'm going to watch The Story of 1 now that my interest has been piqued! Roman numerals in particular make so much sense now.

Waldorf Math sewing beanbags children

My children particularly enjoyed sewing beanbags--they couldn't have been more enthusiastic and proud of their finished items! I loved the thick rainbow thread (where can I get more of that?!), and even though the sizes of the felt squares didn't seem to match up exactly, my children didn't seem to notice. We used the beanbags for number games on our driveway, but our outdoor play quickly turned to biking and other activities.

While Math By Hand won't be our main math curriculum this coming fall, I may still order kits like these rhythm games (I wonder if I can find similar French rhythm games somewhere?) as my children grow, because it's rare to find such tactile and kinesthetic motor activities linked to mathematics, and children thoroughly enjoy them. If you have children between the ages of 7 to 10, they would probably enjoy Math By Hand activities too.

You can find math activity ideas by grade level (1-4) and Common Core standards on the Math By Hand blog, and you'll also want to keep an eye on the Math By Hand ideas on Pinterest. Happy learning!

driveway chalk number games beanbag


Marin provided me with this kit in exchange for a review. You can read a review of the 2nd grade Math By Hand kit at RedBeet Mama.