As a part of our practical arts programming, handwork instruction begins in first grade and continues through high school. Handwork includes studying artisanal skills in felting, crocheting, knitting, sewing, basketry, weaving, dyeing and bookbinding. These skills are taught to aid students' dexterity, focus, motor-coordination and integrative capacities. Many studies have shown that such kinesthetic learning amplifies cognitive skills: so the patterning and complex systems engaged in crocheting, weaving and knitting also aids in the conception of mathematical patterns and systems operations in higher order mathematics. Similarily handwork experimentation with materials and transformative processes like dyeing and saturating solutions, the burnishing and enamelling of copper, and similar chemical processes connect the students to scientific exploration and enhance their undersanding of the physical properties and chemical underpinnings of our world.
Why do we teach this subject here?
Handwork is an important component of the Waldorf curriculum for several reasons. Not only is it
important for the students to learn many different skills with their hands, but neuroscientific research
also points to the more wide-reaching significance of handwork in child development. For example,
since the 1970s linguists have found that fine finger movements stimulate our speech centers, while
more recent research has shown that differentiated hand movements build and encourage cognitive
growth (E. Seward, The Creative Hand). Mobility and dexterity in the fine motor muscles, particularly in
the hand, may also strengthen the physical foundations of thinking by stimulating synapse formation
and cell development in the brain (E. Schwartz, Handwork and Intellectual Development).
How/What is done in this subject this year to meet my child’s development?
By doing handwork, the children not only develop fine motor and practical skills, but also acquire a fine
sense for color combinations, form and beauty. They practice patience, perseverance, gratitude and joy
as they carry out a project that transforms raw material into a finished project. Their senses of touch
and smell are enlivened by contact with natural materials such as wool, cotton and silk in the form of
yarn and fabric. Handwork students also learn to attain a balance between socializing and working
during the lesson.
What will my child achieve in this subject by the end of the school year?
The focus for the children this year will be crocheting. First they will learn and practice basic skills such as chain-stitch and single-crochet. They will crochet three long chains and braid them into a solid belt. They will learn how to do augmentations and diminutions and crochet a pair of potholders, a round doily and a small pouch. The big project in third grade will be crocheting a hat. They will have beautiful colors to choose from and will need to work diligently until the task is done. If enough time is available, some of the children will have the opportunity to crochet a recorder case to be used in the classroom. A few may even have time to learn to double-crochet and make colorful granny squares.
What are things that we can do at home to help support this work?
Ask what she is learning in handwork and how her project is coming along. Show an interest in what
your child is doing; compliment her and encourage her to do some handwork at home. Maybe your child
could teach you how to do it. Be appreciative of the natural fibers and handmade accessories around
you; share this appreciation with your child.