Paper Sloyd: Charlotte Mason’s Living Math, part 3

Homeschool mathematics through paper sloyd

Several times a week Charlotte scheduled some type of handicraft for students in the elementary years. While all of her selected handicrafts gave those young students multiple benefits, one craft in particular was designed to give them confidence in mathematics: paper sloyd.

Sloyd is not a word we hear very often. It comes from Sweden and means “handicraft” or “handiwork.” (In fact, it is still a compulsory subject in Swedish schools.) It can be applied to any number of media: wood, iron, cardboard, fabric. Charlotte’s young students worked with sturdy paper.

We think of sloyd in relation to mathematics because it incorporated many geometric concepts—measuring, bisecting, and angles, to name a few. Through these hands-on projects Charlotte’s students were gently guided to see the relation between a three-dimensional object and its corresponding flat pattern.

For example, the first lesson might be to measure and cut out a paper square that is exactly six inches in dimension. Following Charlotte’s general principles for all handicrafts, the students would be taught slowly and carefully what they must do to make accurate measurements and end up with a true square. Slipshod work would not be allowed; perfect execution was the goal.

And also following her principles for handicrafts, the students would be making something useful. Once they knew how to measure and cut a precise six-inch square, they could use their rulers to bisect that square twice from the corners in order to find the middle point; then carefully fold up each corner so its tip touched that middle point; and create an envelope, using a sticker to hold the four points together once their little note was tucked inside.

From a simple six-inch square they could also make picture frames, pinwheels, scissor cases, and baskets—each project growing a bit more difficult as they progressed, and each project granting a bit more understanding and experience with mathematical concepts. Soon they would think it nothing unusual to be working with hexagons and multi-shaped boxes.

Their paper sloyd lessons gave Charlotte’s students a positive introduction to and practical experience with geometry. You may want to incorporate sloyd in your own home school to give your students those benefits and add variety to your week.

You can find a step-by-step guide to handicrafts like the ones described here in the book, Paper Sloyd: A Handbook for Primary Grades by Ednah Anne Rich. (It was published in 1905 and should be available as a free download online.)

Paper Sloyd. Yet another way that Charlotte made math a living subject!

Note: Stay tuned for an exciting new mathematics resource to be announced next week. You won’t want to miss this one!

SCM on the Road

It has been great to see many of you at the events that we have attended so far this year. We still have many miles to travel and lots of opportunities to see more of you in the months ahead! Here is where we are scheduled to be.


  1. I almost started doing this with my son but got scared he was too young. What do you recommend as far as the min age to start working on this book?
    I wish there was a blog or group that works on this book, some instructions were difficult for me to understand as I read over them.

  2. Thank you so much for this series of posts on mathematics. It is very timely and encouraging for me. I have been drawn to the approach you describe and that Richele Baburina lays out in her book, and made a list of learning objectives this past year for my young sons (first grade). My boys love math and learn so well in that way: hands on and mental math with lots of practical application, and as we go about life (purposefully). That has been my primary form of instruction, with some work from the mathematics curriculum I purchased for the year. But I start fretting, especially about an eventual transition into a textbook and whether they will be prepared for the way math is presented there. I really appreciate Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching, though I wish it had additional practical guidance for what that could look like in a present-day homeschool setting…such as suggestions or examples of how a family today could implement these strategies systematically in their home. I’m looking forward to hearing what your new mathematics resource will be!

  3. Is there a difference between this and origami, or are they basically the same thing? We have some origami activities that intrigue but frustrate my 9 year old son. Something a bit easier to understand but still useful or “neat” would be good for him, I think.

    • Paper Sloyd starts out much simpler than origami and involves basic measuring and cutting skills. I think it would be a good fit for your son. It can become as complicated as he wants it to as he progresses but should be less frustrating at the start. Be sure to encourage him by showing him what he is to do in small steps and make the goal slow, careful work. The book linked in the post above will walk you through it.

  4. I am so excited by this. I like the idea of intermixing this as handiwork for first grade. I think math is so important and I love the practical aspect of your series here.

Comments are closed.