The overarching math topic for third graders in Waldorf education is “The Maths of Practical Life.” Because of the developmental changes around this age, math subjects are chosen with just as much care as the stories for Language Arts! We’ve talked a lot already about how the third grader may begin to feel uncertain about the world around them, even disconnected or “cast-out.” Learning the maths of practical life reassures them that they DO have some sort of control of the world and their experiences within it! Not only that, but they are deeply satisfied by the ability to answer some of life’s questions with definitive answers. They may not know why make-believe play is suddenly beginning to be harder to believe in, or why they sometimes feel sad and angry–but they can tell you without a doubt that their main lesson book is 18 inches long and it is 10:28 AM!
Topics we will cover this year (or have already covered!) include:

Time (Clocks & Calendars)
Weight and Volume
Linear Measurement

We will continue to practice the four operations daily as part of morning bell work and math skills classes, but Main Lesson for the next 4 weeks will be all about linear measurement as well as weight and volume. The class will learn all about the history of measurement, including how and why standardized units of measure came to be. They will have the opportunity to experience several different types of measurement tools and techniques and will learn simple conversions (such as inches to feet). This unit will be jam-packed with hands-on learning, and I fully expect our energetic and curious class to have a lot of fun in this unit!

We started today with a discussion of how people originally used their body parts to measure things. They already knew about the cubit from our Noah’s ark story, so we revisited that before hearing a short story about a king who sent a servant to purchase some cloth. The king asked for 10 feet of cloth, but the servant came back with only 8 feet, and insisted that it was indeed 10 feet, for he had watched the merchant measure it himself! As it turns out, the two men had different-sized feet, resulting in the discrepancy, and thus the king decreed that there be a standard unit of measure to avoid confusion.

Today, the class learned about several of the ways humans have used their bodies to measure the world around them. They also received new “on-the-go” lesson books that will travel with us whenever we go on a measurement mission. Today we learned about these body measurements:

Digits (fingers) to measure the height of a desk.
  • foot
  • hand
  • handspan (yes it is different!)
  • digit/finger
  • cubit
  • fathom/arm span
  • thumb
  • handful
  • hairsbreadth
  • pace
  • yard/girdle
Fathom for Ms H’s “Moses Staff”

Then they had fun measuring items in the classroom using these methods for quite a while! They were given the task of determining which method made the most sense for the job; for example, it would be pretty silly to measure the length of the classroom in digits or even hands. For this job, feet or paces are better options. They even got creative and mixed methods, such as “3 cubits and 2 handspans.” They recorded their results in their “on the go” books, and then we went outside to measure some distances in the field using paces. Tomorrow we will use rulers, yardsticks, and measuring tapes to compare the results and experiences.

Measure Me, Sky

Each morning’s circle includes daily verses to set our intentions for a full day of learning, and either a song or a poem–sometimes both! Here is one of the poems we are learning as part of morning dictations during this unit.

Measure Me, Sky

Measure me, sky!
Tell me I reach by a song
Nearer the stars;
I have been little so long.

Weigh me, high wind!
What will your wild scales record?
Profit of pain,
Joy by the weight of a word.

Horizon, reach out!
Catch at my hands, stretch me taut,
Rim of the world:
Widen my eyes by a thought.

Sky, be my depth,
Wind, be my width and my height,
World, my heart’s span;
Loveliness, wings for my flight.

By Leonora Speyer