Active Math in Circle

Circle time is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling and it’s a wonderful way to begin the day with active learning. Circle time in the early grades is much more than singing and silks. You can use your morning gathering for music lessons, learning poetry, playing string games, learning to jump rope, practicing math, and more.

A key principle in the Waldorf approach to education is beginning with activity. This is easy to do with math! We can experience math with movement, rhythm, music, and number games. This brings math alive and leads to much greater understanding and flexibility in thinking than just learning math through pencil-and-paper practice.

Let’s look at some creative ways to bring math alive in your homeschool.

Geometric Forms

Walk forms (from your form drawing lessons) and geometric shapes either along an imaginary line or a line you draw out with sidewalk chalk or a long jump rope. Work up to walking a large five-pointed star.

Increase the challenge by walking backwards, with your eyes closed, or with a beanbag balanced on your head (or all three!).

Counting Games

Count up to 100 and back while stomping or tossing beanbags. Later on start at any number under 1000 and count up and down about 30 digits or so (ex. - 391-421-391).

Count by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s, 5’s, etc. forwards and backwards with movement. This is “skip counting” and builds the foundation for learning and understanding the times tables. You can skip, gallop, jump, jump rope, toss bean bags, bounce a ball, and so on while you skip count.

Bring in a little imagination. Here’s an example: A frog is crossing a pond by jumping from lily pad to lily pad (count 1, 2, 3,....and of course you jump too while you count!). The little frog wants to get there faster so he jumps to every other lily pad (count 2, 4, 6….). Now he hears his best friend croaking for him to come back and play so he jumps as far as he can, to every third lily pad (count 3, 6, 9,...)!

Introduce rhythmic counting with the traditional Waldorf Strange Family verse: There was a family strange indeed; Each member had a peculiar speed. They could walk for half a day, counting footsteps all the way. I am proper, neat and prim. My walk is straight, my clothes are trim. So I count my steps and you will see, that every one’s the same for me. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Walk steadily along, one step per number. 

But my two steps are not the same! For I must lean upon my cane. Although I’m bent and weak and old, I can still count with numbers bold. One TWO three FOUR five SIX seven EIGHT nine TEN eleven TWELVE. Walk slowly with an imaginary cane, emphasizing with your voice and your stamp every other beat. But MY two STEPS are NOT the SAME... 

I’m a lad, Light and gay and I’d much rather play! I can run with my ball while the num-Bers I call. One two THREE four five SIX seven eight NINE ten eleven TWELVE. Walk with a quick and light step emphasizing every third beat. I’m a LAD light and GAY…

My step is strong, I’ll do no wrong. With all my might, I’ll guard what’s right. I’ll always know how far to go. One two three FOUR five six seven EIGHT nine ten eleven TWELVE. Walk with a sure strong step emphasizing every fourth beat by stamping or hopping both feet together: My step is STRONG...

Like a mouse I go, fearfully tip-toe. Looking to the left, looking to the right. Watching to and fro, danger’s not in sight. Lightly I arrive. I am number five. One two three four FIVE six seven eight nine TEN. Scurry on tiptoe like a mouse and do a little leap on the fifth beat: Like a mouse I GO walking on tip-TOE....

One two three four five six. I can do a lot of tricks. I’ve a friend - number three. He’s a helper to me. He has taught me to play. But I have my own way. One two three four five SIX seven eight nine ten eleven TWELVE. Walk with a quick and light step as in for number three but this time stamp on every sixth beat: I can do a lot of TRICKS....

A giant am I, sauntering by. To numbers so high I quickly will fly! Ten twenty thirty forty fifty sixty seventy eighty ninety one hundred! Take giant steps and count by tens!

Number Line Games

Write the numbers 1 - 24 on the sidewalk in chalk, or indoors on heavy sheets of paper or cardboard taped to the floor. Have your child run to the numbers that you call out, hop with one leg on the odd numbers and two legs on the even numbers, and then practice skip counting along the line. Once your child has some experience with skip counting, he can combine tables, for example stepping from number to number, jumping on all numbers in the three table, and adding a clap for numbers in the six table.

You can practice all four processes on the number line. Start at any number and ask your child walk along the line adding by twos or threes or fours….when he lands on the correct numbers he claps and says them out loud. Do the same with subtraction. Or call out questions such as “five plus seven” or “twelve divided by two” and your child runs to the correct answer.

As your child learns arithmetic with bigger numbers make lines of twenty numbers or so in any stretch between 0 and 1000 (such as 267-287). Have your child start anywhere on the line and call out “add three,” “subtract five,” “minus eighteen,” and so on. Work up to multiple step problems such as “walk two times three steps forward,” “ take eleven minus five steps backward, or “go forward forty-five divided by nine steps.”

Times Tables Games

Continue from skip counting to reciting the times tables with movement. Use a different set of movements for each times table and encourage your child to speak clearly and on the beat. For example, you could do a clapping game like this:

Five (cross arms over chest to opposite shoulders) Is (clap hands together) One Times Five (hands on hips, stomp on each word) Ten (cross arms) Is (clap hands) Two Times Five (stomp-stomp-stomp)

Here’s another variation for the eleven table:

Eleven (raise right knee and touch with left hand) Is (raise left knee and touch with right hand) One Times Eleven (clap on each word) Twenty-Two (left hand to right knee) Is (right hand to left knee) Two Times Eleven (clap-clap-clap)

Work up to reciting the times tables in all the possible ways by the end of third grade. For example, with the twelve times table for each number in the row (12, 24, 36,...) we have this multiplication/division set of facts:

Thirty-six is three times twelve. Thirty-six is twelve times three. Three times twelve is thirty-six. Twelve times three is thirty-six. Thirty-six divided by three is twelve. Thirty-six divided by twelve is three.

The goal here is fluency, not sheer boredom (!), so just do one variation at a time but be sure to practice in many different ways throughout the school year. Do movement with beanbags, jump rope, jump on the trampoline, bounce a ball, kick a soccer ball, swing on the monkey bars, throw a frisbee, or walk backward and forward on a balance beam while you recite.

When your child can recite a times table in order, start practicing it out of order. You toss her a beanbag and say “Five times nine is” and she catches it and says “Forty-five.” For an added challenge, both of you can hold a bean bag and toss them both across to each other at the same time.

You can also make times tables a more challenging clapping game like this (see how fast you can get!):

Three (clap right hands with partner) Times (clap your own hands together) One (clap left hands with partner) Is (clap own hands together) Three (cross hands over chest to opposite shoulders) Silent (touch left hand to left shoulder and right hand to right shoulder) Silent (slap hands on thighs) Silent (clap hands together) Three (clap right hands) Times (clap) Two (clap left hands) Is (clap) Six (cross hands over chest) Silent (touch shoulders) Silent (slap thighs) Silent (clap)

More Resources

If you want to learn more about the holistic approach to math in the early grades please see this post on First Grade Math.

And if you’re looking for a first grade homeschool curriculum that is strong in math, including a carefully thought-out progression for active math throughout the year, with clear instructions and all songs and verses on mp3, please consider Lavender’s Blue First Grade!

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