Waldorf Math Gnomes

Meet the four gnome brothers who are teaching my first graders about the four processes in math: multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.

I wrote a whole little story for them (no surprise there!) and put on a special puppet play to launch this math block. It was such fun and the children enjoyed it so much, there may be more puppet plays on the horizon for grade 1. I promised you on Instagram that I would share the story I told my class, and so, here it is. I’ll be recording it this weekend and posting it up on my Patreon page.Subscribe at any level and listen!

And so now, here is the story. The phrase about “Raggedy Blue” comes from the book “Math Lessons for the Elementary Grades” by Dorothy Harrer. The puppet play idea came to me from Regine Shemroske who teaches at the Lexington Waldorf School in Massachusetts.

Four Processes Gnome Story One – The King and The Gnome Brothers

By April Combs Mann, aka April Eight © 2019

Once there was a kingdom – happy and abundant – with a kind king who was always fair and wise. Wheat grew tall in the fields, vegetables were harvested from gardens each day, bread was always baking in the ovens, and everywhere anyone might go, it was easy to find the folks of the towns and villages and cities talking and laughing with their neighbors and friends. All was well.

Until, one day, war came. The king and his advisors did not foresee it, for they were peaceful and did not think of fighting and taking. But soldiers came and took the food and burned the fields and stole the wealth that the folks in the kingdom had lived under for so many years.  

And so the king who loved his people and had ruled over such a joyful kingdom, well, he did not know what to do. He had never seen such strife. He wanted nothing more than to help his good subjects and bring them the abundance they had all lived under before. How could he serve them best? And so one day he went to his advisors and asked them, “What shall I do? Who can help us?”

And the wise advisors sitting around the great oak council table in their scholarly robes of gold and green all shook their heads. For once,  they too did not have an answer. All except one that is, who scratched her nose and then said, “I have heard that there are hardworking gnomes who live up in the mountains at the edge of the kingdom. Their mines and fields are hidden away behind a magical door and so I am sure that the soldiers who have stolen so much from our towns and villages and cities do not know of them. Perhaps they will have gems from their mines and tall wheat for bread and wonderful vegetables in their gardens that they might share to help save the entire kingdom. If you, the king, went to them and asked for their help, I doubt they would say no.”

No one had any other ideas, and so the king decided to follow the advisor’s idea and go to the gnomes in the mountain. The king disguised himself as a lowly beggar, dressed in rags, so that no one would know that it was he, the king, who was traveling alone.

The king walked for many days along the road, meeting kind people along the way. They had little but they shared what they had, for everyone in the kingdom now knew what it was to be hungry and have little, and so they cared for each other as best they could. The disguised king was so grateful for their kindness to him and vowed silently to himself yet again to return his wonderful subjects to the prosperity they had know before.

And so at last he came to the mountains where the gnomes lived. But how to get in to see them? Wasn’t the door hidden? He was the king and indeed, for as he was wandering along the mountain roads, he did sense a secret door that no others seemed to notice. But how to get in? Well, that was no worry at all. For a king can pass through any door in his own kingdom, this is the power and the magic of being the king. And so he did.

Now the king did not go right up the the gnomes and introduce himself. No. He wanted to see for himself who these gnomes were, how they lived and what they did. And of course, because he was in disguise, the gnomes paid him very little attention indeed except to say, “Good morning” when they went off to work in their fields or their gem mines and “Good evening” when they came home to eat their yummy gnomey dinners and sleep in their cosy gnomey beds.  

The king saw that all these gnomes were hardworking creatures, friendly enough to an unknown stranger and lovers of fine food and good drink. But there was one family of gnomes, four brothers, who the king was most interested in.

The youngest of the four was Percival Plus who always dressed in green. Oh, what a rascal he was. Everything, that was what he had, everything. For he was always adding to his “collections”. Everywhere he would go he would find something he liked, more gems, and more jewels, more gold, more delicious things to eat, more friends to talk to, more more more. Oh! He had more all the time. “I’ll just add it to the collection,” was his favorite thing to say.

And it was funny, thought the king to himself, because Percival Plus loved his dear middle brother so much, and yet he was exactly the opposite. Why sweet Linus Minus dressed in blue, everywhere he went he gave things away or lost them. If a friend needed some gems, well of course he would give them away to her. Or should a hungry dog cross his path, Linus Minus would give away his last piece of bread to him.  Linus’ coat was filled with holes and so were his pockets. Whenever he would put something in them, it would slide right out. “Oh Raggedy Blue, what is the matter with you?” folks would call out to him, “You’ve lost all of your gems, and you are going to need them!”

But Linus Minus was never worried. No, he didn’t mind at all. For he knew his brother Max would be at home, dressed in bright yellow from head to toe. Oh Maximo Multiply whose nickname was Times, he could make anything into 2X or 3X or even 100X more, just like that!

“More gems you need?” he’d say to Linus Minus. “No problem at all. I’ll take these 5  here and multiply them by 2 and then, voila, we’ll have 10. Or how about multiplying them by 3? Why then you’d have 15. That’s fun! We can multiply your 5 gems by every number under the sun!”

Wow! Well, that multiplying sure can make a lot of gems… And so, fortunately, the oldest brother in this gnome family was the very fine Daniel Divide. Now Daniel was just so fair, he always divided everything up so evenly. And that was a good thing because between his brothers Perceval Plus and Maximo Multiply, the brothers’ gnome house would fill up so much that the four brothers could hardly move about.

When that would happen, Daniel would say, “Oh no, all this adding and multiplying has taken over again. Stand back, my dear brothers, and now let me see… We can divide all of your wonders up fair and equally. I’ll take these twelve gems and here’s what I’ll do. I’ll divide them up into six sets of two. Two for brother Linus for he always loses what he has, two for our bread, and two for new candles. Two more for the gnome village to pay for the roads and two for our seeds for next year to sow. Now it is done, I’ve decided what is best, I’m so glad I can divide and clear up this mess!”

Well, as you can imagine, after watching these gnome brothers use their amazing talents, the king knew that they could help him run his kingdom and help all of his citizens. And so, one evening when all the brothers were home together, a lowly beggar came to their door and asked to be let in.

Linus Minus opened the door and showed the disguised king into the cozy kitchen. A brightly lit fire was dancing in the hearth and the four brothers were all talking and eating and laughing.

“Dear Beggar, may I hang up your cloak for you?” asked Linus. And when the king handed his ragged cloak to him, there, standing before the four gnome brothers, was the king himself, in his shining crown and royal robes. The four gnomes stood up quickly, their mouths open in astonishment.

“Your majesty,” they said, and they all bowed down before the king.

“Why thank you,” said the king, “but it is I who am impressed with the four of you!”

“With us?” said the brothers in wonder.

“Yes indeed,” said the king. “For you have show yourselves to have clear qualities that could benefit our entire kingdom, why in fact the whole world, but let us start here first. I would ask that you come to my castle at once, for the kingdom is in need of your masterful skills.”

The brothers discussed it between themselves. Would they leave their home and go to the castle to work for the king? Well, Percival Plus thought it sounded wonderful – so many more places and experiences to add to his collections. And oh! Imagine the delicious food they must cook in the castle! Linus Minus was worried about all that they would miss at the gnome village and everything they might lose if they left. Maximo Multiply was delighted, excited, entranced and ignited by the opportunity. He could make so much more with so much more to work with! And Daniel Divide, so practical was he, felt it was important to work in the service of the people and the king.

And so it was decided.

The next morning the brother set off with the king, back in his beggar disguise, to the castle. And they must be there now… What are they doing? Perhaps we will find out…


  1. Reply

    Mariachiara Stasi

    January 26, 2020

    What a lovely story! I teach to a first class in a waldorf school in Italy, and I’m so grateful to have found this amazing story to introduce the four processes.
    I will tell it tomorrow!
    In fact, I’m writing to you to kindly ask you the continuation of it…
    I’d love to read the end of this magnificent tale! And to tell it to my children!
    Would it be possible?
    Thank you in advance and congratulations on your job


    • Reply


      March 14, 2020

      Grazie Mille, Mariachiara. I’m so glad it was useful for you! I kind of like leaving the mystery of what might have happened next out there for my students. But, I will think about how I could expand upon it though. I’ll ask my imagination what else there might be for me to tell.

      The beggar’s disguise is a bit of Odin’s story thrown into First Grade. It’s such good fun to leave a trail, and I think it is one of the major benefits of teaching through the grades.

      Thank you for writing. I love to hear from you! Take care. xo April


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