Discovering Waldorf – ‘Handwork in a Waldorf School’.

Discovering Waldorf - Handwork in a Waldorf School

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.
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Handwork in a Waldorf School
by Angela Mobley.

May our hands complete our task with patience,

May our work be done with care.
May our fingers work as friends together,
And may we our friendship share.

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?

We already know that current research on movement, learning, and the brain supports handwork as a learning tool.
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.

In second grade, students continue to develop their knitting skills. The second grade is a time of polarities, found in themes of fables and saints. In handwork, they often make an animal from the fables, or in some schools, learn to crochet. Whereas knitting is an equally lateral act, crocheting establishes definite hand dominance. This, in addition to the way the crochet hook is held, helps develop dexterity specific to handwriting, and cursive writing.

Third graders may learn to crochet for the first time, and may begin hand sewing or see a return to knitting.Themes of the third grade curriculum include farming and practical life skills, so in handwork students may learn to wash and card a fleece, use a drop spindle, learn to weave, and do some natural dyeing.
Curriculum themes in the fourth grade include local geography, the Norse myths, and fractions. Cross-stitch and embroidery are explored. Fourth graders are ready for handwork that uses finer motor activity, and hand sewing a bag reinforces this ability. Cross stitch pattern making and use of symmetry reinforces their learning about fractions.
In fifth grade, a golden year, students study botany and Greek myths. They knit socks, have woodwork as part of their curriculum and may get to make their own knitting needles.They might learn such things as cable knitting or simple lace patterns, strengthening ideals of beauty and grace. In sixth grade, zoology is one aspect of the curriculum and students make realistic stuffed animals.

In seventh grade, they explore wet felting. Wet felting is an especially apt metaphor for bringing chaos into order, and meets the development of the 7th grader .

In 8th grade, as part of their learning about the Industrial Revolution, students sew garments on sewing machines and may even draft their own sewing patterns. Handwork in high school is brought through classes with master artisans, and may include tapestry weaving, hand spinning, and box making.

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.
-develop socially.
-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.

-enjoy making something useful and beautiful.

In this day and age, we have learned that our clothes come from the store and our food comes from the store, and we do not sense a connection with the people who actually made our clothes or brought us our food. Handwork engenders an awareness of the handmade object, and brings a sense of pride and accomplishment in making an item yourself. The social aspect of handwork is huge. Students can admire each others’ work, celebrate each others’ accomplishments, however small they might be, help each other solve problems, teach each other what they know, and make things to give to friends and family, or, they might make things for charity. A mentor once reminded me, “It is not the result that matters, it is how the students get there that matters most”. The lessons learned in the culture of handwork can be mirrored in the world at large.

At the end of class, the handwork projects are neatly folded or rolled, and put away until next time.

“Now our time is over, our work for now is done.

Today our hands have served us well; hands, head, and heart are one.”

* * *
Thank you so much, Angie. I thoroughly enjoyed this informative overview of Waldorf Handwork. I clearly see the importance of continued handwork throughout the grades. Making something with her own hands has brought my daughter so much pleasure… to know that she can create… it’s incredibly inspiring!
Angela is developing a fantastic online resource for those interested in Waldorf Handwork called Waldorf Handwork. Angie also has a lovely blog, The Artist The Mom. Pop on over for some great inspiration.
Thank you so much, Angie… blessings and magic to you!


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6 Responses

  1. Thank you for another great Waldorf post! Before I learned about the handwork curriculum in Waldorf schools, I never imagined that young children could knit…I couldn’t even knit for that matter. After I taught myself, and then my children, I came to see what a valuable skill this was- for the same reasons Angie mentioned.

  2. So nice to read about handwork in Angela’s words. She is definitely one of the most talented women I have gotten to know, love to see her projects!
    Handwork is suck a big part of our lives, of our everyday. I was sewing and doing hand crafts long before I had children or knew of Waldorf, we would still be doing all of these things anyways, but I love having the wisdom of Waldorf education to guide us on our way.
    Thank you for bringing this to us :)

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