I am so pleased to introduce Angela Mobley to Discovering Waldorf today. Angela has been a handwork teacher at the Waldorf School of Louisville for the past 8 years. She is a mother of 4, married to a Rolfer and loves to explore the sustainably creative life. Her topic for todays discussion is Waldorf handwork… how and when it is introduced in a Waldorf school and why it is such an integral part of Waldorf education.
Thus begins another handwork class in a Waldorf school. Students recite their verse, and begin happily receiving their work. They begin to knit, chatting quietly, listening to a story as they knit, or receiving help from their teacher. It is a scene played out in Waldorf schools and homeschool programs all over the world.
Why is handwork considered so vital? It is patently obvious that handwork can nourish artistic sensibilities, bring practical skills, and reinforce numeracy. But how does it affect learning?
For instance, Matti Bergstrom, a Swedish neurophysiologist, says:
“The density of nerve endings in our fingertips is enormous. Their discrimination is almost as good as that of our eyes. If we don’t use our fingers, if in childhood and youth we become “finger-blind”, this rich network of nerves is impoverished-which represents a huge loss to the brain and thwart’s the individual’s all-around development.”
And, according to an article by Eugene Schwartz,
“Recent neurological research tends to confirm that mobility and dexterity in the fine motor muscles, especially in the hand, may stimulate cellular development in the brain, and so strengthen the physical foundation of thinking.”
Handwork is an integral part of the Waldorf curriculum. Students begin in first grade by discovering wool, learn to finger crochet, and begin knitting. In first grade, there is a gradual and gentle awakening as the children leave the dreamy world of kindergarten. Skills are taught through the use of stories and word imaginations.
Through all this handwork, core capacities that enhance learning are being built.
Handwork helps children:
-have a sense of reverence and wonder.
-gradually ease the “waking up” transition between early childhood (birth-around age 7) and grade school years
-Promotes capacities for thinking and judging
-Moves the child from play to meaningful work
-Build their life (etheric) sense through the rhythmic activity of knitting :
-Build confidence in their abilities
-Develop patience and perseverance since a handwork project takes time
-Awaken feelings through working with color and the very act of creating
-Make a connection between mankind and nature. Materials used are from the earth, and gratitude and reverence for the earth’s gifts are inherently appreciated.
-Achieve balance in the sense that handwork strengthens forces that are weak (Strengthens thinking in the dreamy child, feeling in the overly intellectual child, and stimulates activity in the weak-willed child)
-build the capacity to solve problems. Students have to notice mistakes, keep count of their stitches, and focus while knitting.
-Build the capacity to concentrate and focus.
-Regulate themselves. Students may become frustrated with themselves or where they are in a project and learn how to ask for help, figure it out themselves, or wait for help.
At the end of class, the handwork projects are neatly folded or rolled, and put away until next time.