Preparations are well underway for the Seacoast Waldorf School’s Annual Holiday Faire on December 8 from 10-3 (visit The Seacoast Waldorf School Holiday Faire on Facebook for more information). Even the students are preparing by creating items in Handwork Class for the school to sell at their Community Table! Including them in this way teaches the students the importance of giving back to their school and community, and gives them a sense of satisfaction and pride in their work when they see what they have created by hand beautifully displayed for sale at the Holiday Faire.
At Waldorf Schools around the world, Handwork Class is an integral part of the curriculum. Working with our hands is good for our brain, something Waldorf schools worldwide have known for almost 100 years. The Waldorf Handwork Curriculum is intentionally planned based on the developmental and physical stages of the children, and has many benefits, both physically, intellectually and academically.
One benefit of handwork that is easily understood is that using our hands increases hand eye coordination, mobility and dexterity, and strengthens fine motor skills. But why is this important when it comes to academics? The learning disabilities specialist Jean A. Ayres states that “Praxis, or the ability to program a motor act, shows a close relation to reading
skills, even though reading would appear to be only distantly related to goal-directed movement of the body.” Citing the research of Strauss and Werner, she notes that “Children with finger agnosia (awkwardness and lack of control) made more errors on a test of arithmetical ability than did children without finger agnosia.”
In recent years research has been done on the subject of what is happening in the brain while using your hands to craft. While studying the plasticity of the brain, neuro scientists have discovered that handwork activities like knitting and sewing can stimulate cellular development in the brain, activate and establish neuro pathways, and strengthen the physical foundation of thinking. In a nutshell, handwork is good for our bodies and minds, and enhances the students’ abilities in academics!
Discover Waldorf Education: Knitting and Intellectual Development,The Role of Handwork in the Waldorf Curriculum, by Eugene Schwartz,
Seacoast Waldorf School students have two Handwork Class periods per week, and with each project that is introduced, skills that will carry over into math, reading, spelling and writing are taught. Handwork teaches the students important executive functioning skills such as how to plan ahead, to work carefully step by step, and to sequence steps; they learn to envision a project — from whole to parts, and then parts to a whole complete project, all essential skills for their academic studies as well as life beyond the classroom.
With each stitch they knit they learn to focus on their work, ensuring that their hands, the needles and the yarn all go in the correct directions. With each evenly spaced stitch they sew, the student learns self-discipline. With each row of crochet building upon the last until, finally, they can switch to a new color, they learn patience. Self esteem is boosted and the students develop a confident “can do” attitude as they grasp difficult concepts and complete their projects. While working with natural materials in class, students gain an awareness of where the fibers they use come from, creating a connection to the world outside of the classroom. They gain an awareness and a respect for the amount of work that goes into the production of the items they use every day. It is not unusual to hear a student exclaim “I can’t believe how long it takes to knit a hat (or cross stitch a pillow, or sew a bag, etc)!” They develop an appreciation for the form, beauty and the function of the items they make and use.
The Waldorf Handwork Curriculum teaches children to knit on two needles in first and second grade, to crochet in third grade, to embroider and cross stitch in fourth grade, to knit in the round on double pointed needles in fifth grade, to create patterns, sew three dimensional items and wet felt slippers in sixth and seventh grade, and to sew on machines when they reach eighth grade. Other fiber arts such as wet and needle felting, fabric dyeing, and quilting are also taught at different times throughout their eight years at the school.
The projects are often planned to correspond with the subjects the students are studying with their class teacher. For example, the fifth grade is currently studying geometry, and in Handwork Class they have taken a break from the hats they are knitting to draw, cut and carefully stitch geometric shapes to be made into a wall hanging for the school foyer. German was also taught during this project as the children learned and hand stitched the name of their shapes in both English and German. To enhance the eighth grades’ studies of the Industrial Revolution, the sewing machine was introduced in Handwork. After seven years of working by hand, the students have experienced first hand the incredible impact the machine has on the speed and efficiency of their production in class. The eighth grade students are currently sewing pajama bottoms.
So, when you peak into the Handwork classroom at a Waldorf School, it might look like the students are simply knitting or sewing, but there’s really nothing simple about it. They are strengthening fine motor skills, crossing the midline, improving memory, and all around challenging their brain in a way that is too complicated for most of us to comprehend!
To learn more about Waldorf Education and the Seacoast Waldorf School please visit our website www.seacoastwaldorfschool.org or call 207-686-3140 to schedule a tour. Events sponsored by the school such as the Holiday Faire on December 8 are a great way to get to know the school. Please friend us on Facebook and let us know if you would like to receive our newsletter. We look forward to hearing from you!