Waldorf Handwork

Waldorf Handwork Philosophy 


 The traditional Waldorf stages are defined as...

Hands/Will/ Angels, ( 0-7)
Hearts/Imagination/ Artists (7-14)
Head/Understanding/Scientists (14-21) 

 Handwork is important in all these stages.

In the stage of Hands/Wills/Angels (0-7) handwork can be taught through modelling where a child can watch an adult work around them and absorb it naturally. 
A child will also be more interested in exploring the feel of materials rather than actually designing or fashioning them into a finished product.
Supervised play with clay, bread dough, soft wool roving and natural seed pods, stones and shells is a perfect introduction to handwork at this age.

Here handwork can be used as a tool to spark the imagination. The child can begin to learn how raw materials are grown, harvested and processed. Children can discover how fleece is washed, carded and spun into yarn. From this deep connection to the natural environment children can begin to learn simple weaving, felting, finger knitting, knitting, crocheting and sewing. 
Projects can be carefully designed, planned and slowly worked through week on week. 

Young people may enjoy designing their own patterns and projects at this stage. This is also the perfect time to introduce traditional crafts such as pottery, metal work, wood work and glass work. Many local artisans are happy to offer workshops. 

An Emphasis on understanding the journey not just the destination.
In Waldorf schools, children are given the opportunity to see the process of creation from start to finish.
An example of that is getting the children to collect local sheep fleece. They wash, card and spin the fleece, plie it to create yarn and then create something beautiful and useful from it such as a knitted scarf or a crocheted bag.
 Maintaining the vital connection between product and process is essential if we are to remain mindfully compassionate about the choices we make as consumers.

Connections between Process and Product
The connection between process and product is also something I want to integrate into our homeschooling day.
So often we can get too caught up on the finish line, the target, the result, when really the process of creation is where the essential learning takes place.

Honoring the Integrity of the Work
Boo has been learning this lesson well as she weaves her little rope basket, day by day, inching around a circle, two stitches forward and one stitch back!
At first it was really hard for her to undo any work that was messy and could be improved on. She became very attached to the idea of "just finishing".
Now undoing and redoing are something she takes on board much more easily and through it she gives her work integrity. 

Making Each Stitch Count
How many times in life will we have to make each stitch count for its own sake?
Ultimately, the integrity of a whole life's work rests upon the love given to the single stitches that weave it into one piece.

soft fleece still smelling of the pasture
the spinning dervish of the drop spindle

twirling in the same motion as the spheres both great and small.

uniting all stranded fibres, all distracted threads



"Spring Primula's"
"Maid Marion Handspun Garland"

A beautiful video about the importance of handwork below.

The Wills/Hands stage of Development (0-7)
I really wanted to write a few of my "thoughts in progress" on the first stage of development the Will/Hands stage. I have noticed that each one of my children seems to have benefited enormously from spending time in this stage.

One thing that has become really apparent to me is how important the physical aspect of experiencing life is to very small children.

Yet doesn't it seem that many of a small child's immediate drives and needs are being more and more inhibited in modern culture?

The Increased Speed of Modern Life
Life has certainly become far more structured, micromanaged, sanitized, goal orientated instead of process orientated and generally intolerant of the kinds of chaos children can create.

Babies Natural Development through Play
I was watching a wonderful film called "Babies" the other day!
The film is a series of excerpts following the journey of four children from around the world from birth to toddler hood.

There were many similarities between the babies as you can imagine, but one thing stuck me.
The environments in which the babies of African tribes lived and played were so much more natural and integrated.

Playing with natures own materials and simple tools in imitation of the adults around them was integrated into every day circumstance.

 Music, dance, tradition, work and play all flowed in a gentle stream of natural living. The children "imitated" and picked up skills naturally without any pushing or prodding. Incidentally, I was particularly taken with how chilled out the children, and mothers were.

Small children are so tactile and it was wonderful to see these little babies splashing as their mothers washed clothes in the stream, playing in the mud, pretending to "work" with stones and twig "tools" as their mothers did their own work around them.

The Mongolian babies naturally played alongside, goats, chickens and other farmyard animals.

 Nature's Playground
Another thing that stood out for me was the apparent lack of any "real" toys. The children simply played with what they found in their immediate environment and let their imaginations do the rest! The babies of industrialized countries were absolutely beautiful to watch too of course.
They were lovingly lavished with many varied experiences by their conscientious parents. However, one thing struck me in particular. The level of effort it took these parents to re-produce, what were for the African babies, "natural" learning experiences.

It seemed like the babies were being "channeled" into these experiences and that these experiences were in someway, detached from their natural everyday home based realities.

It was as if they had to fit into their own little compartments labelled, "music and movement time", park time, art time etc...

For example, music, dance and socialization was introduced through groups and classes which they had to be "taken" to.

Activities such as art, sand play, water play  were likewise often set apart from the everyday home environment.

There was less of a sense of relevance to these activities than there was in the tribal community.

This lack of integration may be partly why it is becoming increasingly hard to bring up families in the modern world.

Modern Pressures

There is so much pressure for parents to make sure their child hits all the milestones, is popular socially, academically on target and self confident to boot. There is, of course, a huge industry geared toward our children acquiring all these skills.

Due to external work pressures parents also often lack the time needed to integrate the wild, messy play of small children into everyday life and experience.

Modern life calls for perfectly clean surfaces.

Modern life is also very masculine, technological, fast paced and industrial.

These aspects of life conflict with the feminine, intuitive, patient, earthiness that nurtures the small child in their hands/will/angels stage.

Preparing to Read, Write and Think Abstractly

Now that preschools are replacing play with the practice of the three R's the time for nourishing this developmental stage in children is becoming thinner and sparser.

According to the Waldorf philosophy,  pre-academic skills are acquired primarily through use of the hands.
Children must have real and relevant contact with the physical aspects of everyday life before being able to transfer this knowledge to the symbolism of words and numbers on a piece of paper.

 Children have to "feel" and experience before they can begin to think symbolically.

Handicrafts, painting, percussion, dance, movement, poetry, sand, water, mud, sticks, cotton reels, spoons, bowls, balancing, climbing, texture.

We know small children are drawn toward these things.

Maybe if we lengthen the time at which children are given to explore this first stage of development they will be better equipped emotionally and mentally for the next stage.

Below are some pictures of the girls learning how to card and spin wool at Tattershall Castle's traditional craft's day


Here is a link to a knitting verse we use to help the children learn to knit.