How to Teach First Grade Math

Math was never my favorite subject as a child.  I remember sitting in my second grade class while the teacher taught us to tell time.  I didn’t understand it and I was terrified that she would call on me.  I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t understand.  I had the feeling I just wasn’t good at math. Now math might not be one of my natural strengths, but there isn’t any reason why I couldn’t have learned to feel strong and confident while receiving an excellent math education.

I know many homeschool teachers are scared to teach math to their children.  Maybe they also had hard schoolroom math experiences.  Maybe they still don’t feel very comfortable with math topics. Maybe they forgot so much they’re worried they won’t know what to teach.

Most of all?  I think moms don’t want their children to have an aversion to learning math.  They don’t want to pass on a math phobia.  They want their child to get a solid math education without it being painful.

Even if you didn’t enjoy math growing up you can still love teaching it.  And your child can have a completely different experience than you did. I love teaching math at home.  And the way I teach it is nothing like the way I was taught in school.

The Waldorf-inspired approach to teaching first grade math

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While traditional education views math as solely academic or head-oriented, in the Waldorf approach it’s an active, imaginative subject.  We teach math with the head, heart, and hands.

Typical first grade math lessons involve movement, storytelling, making number patterns with objects (glass beads, acorns), and drawing.  This is so much more rich and engaging than the traditional approach.  And because of that, children learn that the world of numbers is open to them.

Here’s how to work with the whole child when teaching math

Begin each lesson and each new topic with activity.  Get the whole body involved in experiencing math through games, movement, and rhythm.  You could:

  • Toss a beanbag while you count
  • Play hopscotch
  • Jump rope
  • Recite a verse
  • Skip while counting by fives

Then teach something new through the feelings or imagination.  You could:

  • Tell a story with the four processes using animals, gnomes, or fairies
  • Act out a little number-journey together - be a squirrel family gathering acorns

Take what you’ve learned and work with the intellect.  You could:

  • Review and practice topics from the day before and previously
  • Use manipulatives to solve four processes problems
  • Write problems in your main lesson book and illustrate them

Objectives for first grade math

In first grade the goal is to introduce your child to the wonder and beauty of numbers, to get comfortable with counting to 100 and skip counting, and to introduce all four processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division).

The goal is to value depth, experience, and engagement.  When your child feels engaged with math it has some meaning for him!  This is so different from the dull facts-only approach that so many of us grew up with.

Schedule for first grade math

I recommend 12 weeks of main lesson divided into 3 blocks (often October, January, and April work well).  The first main lesson should focus mainly on numbers themselves - what they are and how they’re expressed in the world (Quality of Numbers).  The next two blocks should focus on the four processes (Arithmetic).  Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you an in-depth tour of what these first grade main lessons can look like!


Making Math Meaningful by Jamie York is an excellent overview of the Waldorf math curriculum for grades 1-4.  The opening chapters on how to teach math effectively and avoid math phobia are priceless.  The curriculum and objectives for each grade and main lesson block are given in detail but the particulars on how to bring the subject to life (with games, verses, art, stories, and so on) are left up to the teacher.

Lavender’s Blue First Grade is a complete Waldorf-inspired curriculum with a uniquely strong math program.  It includes detailed instructions for teaching math, fully planned out main lesson blocks with illustrations, active math for the year (with all the verses on audio), and original stories for a beautiful and strong start in math! Click here to learn more and purchase.