This article can also be found in its entirety at this link: http://www.waldorf-swlondon.org/item.shtml?x=541431. I have copied this article below for your reading pleasure due to the importance of the quotes of Rudolf Steiner that it includes:
Handwork in the early classes
by Patricia Livingston
A class three child unravels his wool prior to knitting.
We all know that handwork and crafts are part of the twelve-year curriculum of a Rudolf Steiner school, but why are they considered so important, and what do the children learn in the early grades beyond a few simple techniques of knitting, crocheting and sewing?
Rudolf Steiner said that play is to the young child what work is to the adult, the main difference being that play comes out of the inner needs of the child, while work is determined more from the needs of the outside world. The kindergarten child is extremely creative and puts tremendous force and intensity into all his play. This play, this inner force, properly guided, becomes the basis for truly creative work and thought in the adult. “It is the task of the school gradually to lead over from play to work” (Rudolf Steiner), and so to develop a real connection between the child’s inner world and the outer world. One of the important bridges between these two is the handwork lesson in the early classes.
Making things, using materials from nature, makes one aware of all that the world has to give. For this reason it is important that the child be given natural fibres to work with. He should develop respect and appreciation for the earth out of which grows the cotton that magically becomes a pot-holder, wonder for the trees that give him his knitting needles, and great love for the sheep whose warm fleece becomes the wool he knits into his soft scarf. These are the seeds for understanding all that man and nature can do together and how human beings depend on one another. In this way, a true social impulse is born.
When a child makes something he can use or wear, such as a pair of socks, and makes a connection with something that would otherwise remain outside his conscious experience, he again becomes closer to the outside world and makes a step toward wholeness. It is a problem of our times that people feel cut from their surroundings. To know how the ordinary things we use in life come into being makes one less of a stranger in one’s environment.
But nothing can happen in a handwork lesson unless one works with one’s hands! The will must be used, and happily for the child, he can quickly see the results of his efforts. He gains confidence in himself as he sees a simple ball of yarn turn into hat he can wear home. Why be afraid of the world when one can do so much with so little? I think it is important, therefore, that the children make things which they can start from the beginning, and do every step themselves. No ready-made patterns, no hidden steps by the teacher. How does something get turned inside out? How did that cord get through the top of that drawstring bag? Many things that children used to see and learn at home, they are completely ignorant of today. They are thrilled and excited by these magical tricks. All this stimulates their inventive powers and the ability to have creative ideas when facing the unknown. We know how much they will need these capacities in the world they will face as adults.
What is handwork in a kindergarten? This question often comes up and I think has to be deeply examined in the light of child development. The sense of order, form, colour and beauty in dealing with the materials of the world is expressed by the kindergarten child in the care with which he sets the table, chooses the mat to go under the candle, places his two shoes together in a row with others, or neatly folds his jumper before putting it away. That is handwork for the child before the change of teeth. Learning a real craft draws him away too soon from his imaginative, creative world. Far better that he will sit down with two sticks or pencils and imitate the adult knitting than that he learns to do one or two things with threads.
It is different when it comes to class one. Something more is happening. The child has reached the dawn of his intellectual thinking and in the handwork class, he now really learns to knit.
Rudolf Steiner said, “Thinking it cosmic knitting”: the continuous thread of thinking weaves itself into whole thoughts. How can we enhance the co-operation between the hands and the head? We must call upon the feelings. Colour awakens interest, enthusiasm and joy in the child. He should be given the beautiful colours he so eagerly responds to in nature. He must develop a sensitivity toward colours, really observe them, and be aware of how they affect one another. A bright yellow thread cries out to be made into a golden chain. The child responds and the activity of the limbs works with the feelings and stimulates the processes of the head. It should become a harmonious, rhythmical activity. The child must begin to be conscious. He counts his stitches; he must know when one is missing. There is a right way to hold the needles, a right time to put the thread over the needle. Such things slowly bring the child out of his unconscious world.
In the class two, still using the continuous thread, we crochet shapes, a kind of early geometry—a rectangular pot-holder, a round hand bag, a five-cornered mat. Are the sides equidistant? The child must develop judgement and a sense of form and space. Learning of this kind can have a real balancing effect on his whole being. It awakens feelings in the child who is one sidedly intellectual, stimulates activity in the weak willed child, and awakens the thinking in the dreamy child.
To bring about this balanced effort of all the child’s forces is a tremendous challenge to the handwork teacher. She must call upon her own powers of imagination, enthusiasm and play. Then the child will happily participate, and along with all the hidden lessons of life, he will learn the practical skills of knitting, crocheting and sewing.
Children who learn while they are young to make practical things by hand in an artistic way, and for the benefit of others as well as themselves, will not be strangers to life or to other people when they are older. They will be able to form their lives and their relationships in a social and artistic way, so that their lives are thereby enriched.
Hedwig Hauck, Handwork and Handycrafts: Part 1, translated by Graham Rickett, Steiner Schools Fellowship, 1968
Carrie’s Notes Now: This is a great article, and a great introduction to the role of handwork in Kindergarten, first, and second grades within the Waldorf school environment.
Knitting is an activity that is introduced to children in Waldorf first grade. There are some Waldorf homeschooling mothers out there who are extraordinarily gifted with handwork, but for many of us, the idea of teaching our child to knit in the first grade brings on chills and fear.
Knitting is an important activity for many reasons, including hand-eye coordination, crossing midline, use of math in a living activity, awakening for the seven-year-old. In some Waldorf schools, the handwork has the children for four shorter periods each week or two longer sessions. You must provide this type of continuity at home within your homeschool in order for projects to be completed.
One place many homeschooling mothers start is to look at the cycle of wool. One could visit a sheep farm to feel the wool on the sheep, obtain raw fleece and wash and card it, have the homeschooling mother work the raw carded fleece on a drop spindle, take undyed yarn and dye it in your own kitchen, make knitting needles and then have a wonderful story for introducing knitting to your child. The important thing in this, however, is to make sure that the child gets some yarn on their needles before too long and interest wanes!
Other things to consider is making sure your child is proficient with finger knitting, braiding, and making knots before starting to knit. Fingerplays are useful for warming up the hands prior to knitting and many great verses for this are available in Waldorf materials.
Some mothers have found great luck with thicker needles and chunkier yarn. We had the opposite experience here and had better luck with a thinner yarn and a more slender needle.
First knitting projects may include such things as washcloths, recorder cases, scarves, small stuffed animals. One idea I personally have always liked is taking a square that your child has knitted and magically turn it into a stuffed animal at night while your child is asleep.
Resources for knitting includes Donna Simmons’ First Grade Syllabus, which includes ways to introduce knitting, a knitting story, and suggestions for projects. Another resource is Bonnie Gosse and Jill Allerton’s “A First Book of Knitting for Children.” This has in it the traditional verses you hear for casting-on, knit stitch, and casting-off that you will need in First Grade. A third resource is FaerieRebecca’s “First Grade Knitting Projects: A Simple Guide to Three Easy Projects”, available on Etsy. This little booklet includes instructions for coasters, washcloths, recorder cases.
My daughter so far has completed a rectangular shaped swatch that she is calling a scarf for her teddy bear, and she is now working on a square I am going to change one night into a stuffed animal. The last project will be a pennywhistle case.
Happy Knitting to you and your first grader!!