Handwork has been an integral part of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum since its foundation. Along with other practical arts, Handwork aims to develop each student’s fine motor skills, nurture their creative soul and consciously grow their will. The practical nature of Handwork helps to balance out the more academic subjects in the curriculum. The physical nature of Handwork fosters a child’s awareness of their body and its place in space. The social nature of Handwork, with its sharing of ideas, skills and materials, encourages the children to develop their social interaction skills.
In the younger years, using stories, songs, verses, colours and characterful projects, the lengthy and practical nature of knitting and crochet is warmed for the children, turning what could be a repetitive task into a labour of creativity and love. This mode of teaching also cultivates the children’s rhythmical development, their listening and reciting skills. In later years, there is a growing focus on the elements of planning, pattern making and project purpose.
In Classes One and Two students at Raphael House develop their basic knitting skills through a series of small knitted items that become progressively more challenging to create. The children discover about ‘transformation of substance’ by experimenting how, what begins as a one dimensional thread, changes into a piece of two dimensional fabric, which in turn takes on a three dimensional function in the shape of a treasure pouch, small animal or ball.
The individual nature of knitting encourages students to develop their concentration and will. The student engages their will each time they encounter their slowly progressing projects, gaining great satisfaction as each item is successfully completed. In Class Two these basic skills are practiced and extended upon through the introduction of pattern reading and purl stitch as students work to create their E Hoa (friend).
In Class Three the students continue to build on the knitting skills that they have gained in Classes One and Two, creating a Fair Isle flute case.
This project ensures that students develop precise knitting skills. The complex patterning ensures they count every stitch and choose the correct colour with which to knit the stitch. Once children have completed their flute case, they are introduced to crochet, through a series of small projects. In order to crochet well students develop a strong rhythm and sense of number as they work.
By Class Four students have developed their fine motor skills to the level where they are able to work at the very tips of their fingers and are now able to work on a much finer scale with cross stitch and needlepoint. Cross stitch, with its symmetry and discipline, helps Class Four students to gain confidence and inner firmness as they explore their growing independence. Through colour and form they explore how design can reflect the purpose of the object.
In Class Five students return to Fair Isle knitting, becoming more creative with this technique. They learn to knit on four needles, in the round, are able to combine the Fair Isle techniques they have learnt to create a personalised hat for themselves. The precision that this project involves sharpens and challenges their knitting skills. The counting and pattern making required encourages the student to become more aware of each stitch they make.
During the final two years of lower school handwork the students’ growing social and intellectual needs are met with a complex design project. In Class Six they create an animal of their own design through which the students are able to express their individuality in a more elaborate way than they have done in Handwork in previous years. In Class Seven the fine motor skills of the students are increasing and refining as are the social structures of the class. In this way the intelligent and purposeful use of the hand parallels and influences the development of thinking. The Handwork curriculum assists in this process by asking the students to create a doll, the archetypal image of a human being. Unconsciously, for many students, their doll becomes an image of themselves and that furthers the process developing their self-esteem and exploring their identity.