Why Bother? Is This Some Kind of Weird Waldorf Thing?
Yes, Waldorf in grade 1 is heavy with gnomes but that's not the only reason why we use them in Math. In Math, they actually have a very special and practical purpose. Here are my notes for how to tell the introductory story.
The basic idea here is that you are imagining... what if each mathematical operation was a person? How would that person dress? Move? Talk?
Actually embodying those characters helps children develop their mathematical thinking.
In addition, Steiner aligned each operation with a temperament. Addition is phlegmatic. Subtraction is melancholic. Multiplication is sanguine. Division is choleric.
This not only comes into play in the colors and actions in the storytelling, but it allows each child to identify with an operation (his/her own temperament), as well as to see the balancing effects of coming out of one's own temperament and experiencing the world from the point of view of others.
In the Waldorf classroom, we actually act out the math stories, with children acting out the characters/operations/temperaments and dressing in those colors. When the students solve the problems, we manipulate little pieces (suh as flattened glass "gems") and the characters each collect or distribute the gems according to their own way until harmony is achieved in the land.
The King simply serves as someone to give the tasks for collecting or distributing. Sometimes the King will request that each gnome bring him a certain number of gems at the end of the day, and the child has to create the math story to explain how the gnomes did it (ie. the King wanted 12 but Plus got too many and he had 15, so Minus helped him by taking away 3).
How Many Gnomes Come in a Set?
Four and an optional King. The four characters are + (green), - (blue), x (yellow), and ÷ (red).
They have different names in different stories. Farmer Plus, Mr. Minus, Tommy Times, and Mr. Divide are what I use, but it doesn't really make a difference. And feel free to make some or all of the characters female!
Here's the sample lesson from World of Numbers by Live Education! (a Waldorf curriculum company), with the character they created for Multiplication. It is called Mul de Plier: The Girl from the Land of Plenty.
Counting Gem Ideas
flattened glass gems
dried juniper berries
plain popcorn kernels
tiny fir cones
or other uniform items from Nature
You will need to collect 50 pieces, so they should be relatively small. You can sew a small pouch to keep them in or use a pretty dish or a wooden box.
Gnome Patterns & Ideas
Thomas and Petra Berger, bless them, made up an entire book of gnome patterns and instructions. If you have The Gnome Craft Book you are in luck!
And if you don't, you still have lots of other options.
If you're a knitter, knit them. If you're a needle felter, needle felt them. If you're a sewer, sew them. If you're a gluer, glue them. Have fun with it!
Pinecone Gnomes from We Bloom Here
Walnut Shell Gnome from Andrea Greco
Yarn Pompom Gnomes from Lia Grffith
Even Wine Cork Gnomes(!) from Ruffles and Rainboots
How to Needle Felt a Gnome from Shepherd Like a Girl
includes step by step instructions
Needle Felted Gnome Tutorial from Lincolnshire Fenn Crafts
step by step instructions with lots of photos if you're new to needle felting
Felt Gnome Tutorial from Wee Folk Art
for wooden peg doll gnomes
includes step by step instructions with photos, also patterns in two sizes
Simplest Knitted Gnome Pattern (this is from The Gnome Craft Book)
- Body and Head
Cast on 24 stitches in gnome clothing color and knit 4 rows in garter and then 10 rows in stockinette stitch. In the next row k2tog all the way across. Purl the remaining 12 stitches. Change to skin color. Knit 10 rows stockinette stitch. In the next row 2tog all the way across. In the next row cast off. Fold the knitting in two lengthwise and sew up the top and back. Fill the head with unspun wool. Stitch a thread around the neck, draw tight, and tie at the back.
Cast on 20 stitches in gnome hat color and knit 2 rows in garter stitch and then 6 rows in stockinette stitch. In the next row knit the first two and last two stitches together. Repeat for the 11th, 13th, and 15th rows (these are all knit rows; the even rows are the purl rows) and so on until all the stitches are finished. Sew the sides together and sew the hat firmly onto the head.
Cast on 26 stitches and knit 2 rows in garter stitch and then 4 rows in stockinette stitch. Then k2tog all the way across. Cast off. Sew the collar around the gnome's neck, leaving the front seam open.
This book suggests knitting cotton or fine wool and knitting needles in U.S. size 1. Of course, you don't have to make them that tiny!
Simplest Sewn Felt Gnome (click the link for full-size version)
If you don't have wool felt, try them with whatever fabric you have in your stash. If they are all patterned fabric, find patterns where the dominant color is the desired one. If you don't have wool batting or fleece to stuff them with, try pulling apart some cotton balls until you have a little pile of fluff.
Other Patterns & Ideas
It doesn't have to be gnomes, folks! Some people use four little squirrels, especially if your preferred manipulative is acorns. The squirrels can also hop about and collect and distribute in a different way (you could read Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin to start the block) and if you make felt finger puppets and embroider the signs on them, that could be quite sweet.
Squirrel Pattern (click the link and print at 125%)
If you have Around the World with Finger Puppet Animals by Suzanne Down, there's a squirrel pattern in there. Of course, it could be any animal! Rabbits, bears, ducks, or anything that fits and which your child likes (maybe not turtles; it's hard to imagine a turtle springing around with a bell on his hat). Bears could collect blueberries; rabbits collect carrots, radishes, or cabbages.
Songbird Felt Finger Puppet from Melissa Depper Family
(this would be nice if you were using sunflower seeds)
Songbird Pattern (PDF)
Owl Felt Finger Puppet Tutorial from Playing with Words
(burrowing owls are distinctive in that they eat animals but also seeds & fruits; owls do not ever build a nest so don't have them collect twigs)
You could even cut a bunch of little fish out of colored construction paper and have all the characters be paper doll fisherman. It really would be fine.
In fact, one of the main qualities of the melancholic is deep empathy for the suffering of others, so the blue fisherman would constantly be releasing the fish he caught. What a lovely and different way for children to experience subtraction, as a sympathetic "giving away" versus "taking away"!
What you do outwardly is not the thing that matters. You don't have to buy something beautiful and handmade from Etsy or stay up all night sewing. Really. It is your child's inner experience that matters. You are trying to set up a situation where they will have a lively understanding of the operation. That is all! This is worth doing because of the deep understanding it gives your child, but do not stress out about having every little detail be perfect!!
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