Lakeside School at Black Kettle Farm offers birth – 1st grade education based on the Waldorf philosophy on a working farm in Essex, NY. Each week our Office Administrator, Kathleen Morse, writes on the Lakeside school and community and education based on the Waldorf philosophy through her perspective from the office window.
View from the Office Window: Math
Let’s talk about math baby! No, not the annoyingly catchy ’90’s song by Salt-N-Pepa. (Although, I promise to talk about sexual education as a view at some point.) The view from my office window this week is math and it does get my heart pumping.
Now, you may think, she’s going to focus entirely on the elementary and high school since formal academics are not taught in early childhood at Lakeside School. Well, you’re right and wrong. It’s correct that at Lakeside we choose to not have formal academic lessons in the nursery and kindergarten, but math does begin there.
Math for Infants
Let’s start at the beginning… a new baby is born. The first months of a child’s life are spent integrating movement patterns. From flailing hands and feet to that first moment of focusing on and realizing he has hands. Then turning over, crawling, standing up, and then that magic moment, that moment when he lets of your pants leg, balances unaided for a brief instance and takes that first step. Having had the opportunity to go through all the small steps leading up to this point that magic moment is an early experience of math.
Math for Nursery & Kindergarten Children
How did I get from an infant’s movement patterns to math? The key word in the last paragraph is “balance.” An infant must coordination all of his limbs and systems in order to achieve, on his own, balance.
Now take this out to the play-yard here at Lakeside. We’ll take a see-saw that is a common toy for the nursery and kindergarten children as an example. A see-saw at Lakeside is any long branch or board put over a stump or tree or rock. Children then climb onto one end and at least one child or teacher on the other. They must navigate balance to create the fun situation of going up and down. Too much on one side and the children need to scoot forwards or backwards, add or take away children. Children can also move the fulcrum and create a different balance situation. These children are balancing equations with their physical bodies. Having had the opportunity in nursery and kindergarten to play, they gain an inner sense of balance and equality.
Math in the Elementary School
Take this into the 1st grade. The 1st grade students learn all four operations – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – during this first year of elementary school. The common denominator in all of these operations is the equal sign. The equal sign is sometimes introduced to the children through a story. The dispute between a farmer and customer regarding the fairness of the measurement of a scale. The scale then is introduced pictorially to the children and later the image is taken away to leave the symbol of the equal sign. This moving from pictorial image to abstract symbol recapitulated the progression of humanity from oral language (tribal cultures) to pictorial images (hieroglyphics in Egyptian cultures) to abstract symbols (equals sign). Not only have the children at Lakeside had a bodily experience of the equal sign and balancing an equation, but they are also lead through this progression of human development.
Combating Greed through Math
This work with the four operations is brought about in a way that’s not one added to one is two, but rather introduced from the beginning as an exercise in balance and sets the stage for algebra as it’s formally taught in middle school. An added byproduct of this way of introducing the operations is to combat to the materialistic greediness of more and more and more that is fostered by traditional ways of teaching addition, (1+1 is 2, 2 +1 is 3…) more added to more, but rather balance.
At Lakeside the elementary school children are also expected to memorize their number bonds (addition & subtraction facts) as well as multiplication and division tables, but this is not the starting point. The starting point is balance and the opportunity for children to develop the flexibility of thought to solve problems and not just get an answer at the same time as see the interconnections between the different operations. These capacities are invaluable for the introduction of algebra in 7th grade and topics like Quantum Mechanics and Calculus in High School as well as for living a balanced life.