Handwork/Practical Arts

Patricia Holdrege
  • Patricia Holdrege

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  • Biography

Welcome to 7th Grade Handwork!

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 transform 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

What will my child achieve in this subject by the end of the school year/

The students will be gradually introduced to the technique of felting by progressing from easier projects, such as balls and flat pieces, to quite challenging ones like purses and slippers. The projects are done with the wet felting method, which requires warm water, soap and agitation to transform the fleece into a solid texture.  With time, the students become quite expert in this craft!

What are things that we can do at home to help support this work?

Ask what your child 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.