Modeling is one of the oldest basic human activities and brings us to some of the most essential parts of being human – the spiritual activity of art, the grapple with the will and transformation of problem solving. Modeling is a part of the rhythm of work in a week for children in the Early Years, and is used extensively in the grades. In seventh grade, hands and feet are often modeled as part of the journey into physiology, the Renaissance, and perspective and often the head is modeled in eighth grade. High School moves into more serious sculptural design as the student discovers the sculptural forces within himself.
Modeling strengthens many forces in the children. Modeling is wonderful tactile experience to strength the Sense of Touch, one of The Twelve Senses often mentioned in connection with Waldorf Education. It is a way to strengthen the will forces of the hand, provides an exploration into flexibility and visual perception and forces of conceptual strength and incorporate the Sense of Smell. The Sense of Life is strengthened as a child handles materials as the materials are sometimes not the easiest to work with. Beeswax can be hard at first and needs warmth and softening; clay can be wet and sticky. But yet, if children move through this with willing, this medium can become moments of triumph. You can read more about the connection of the life forces of the body to sculpture in Waldorf Journal Project 6.
For small children, beeswax modeling material is often used to strengthen the Sense of Warmth. This article by Rahima Baldwin Dancy explains why beeswax modeling material is used when children are younger than the nine year change, and how this does not mean that small children should never play with clay, but why beeswax modeling materials are often preferred below fourth grade.
There was a book that created quite a stir a few years ago regarding using clay with grades-aged children below the nine year change. You can also see this article regarding the use of clay in the early GRADES. http://www.waldorflibrary.org/journals/22-research-bulletin/1201-autumnwinter-2012-volume-17-2-modeling-clay-for-all-ages This article points out that there is a lot of dogma around this subject and that Steiner did indeed talk about clay for the early grades (but not the Early Years!) However, I will say at least in my experience, Waldorf teachers in the American Waldorf Schools that I have met are not at all open to using clay for children below fourth grade. I am not sure if this is changing or not, so if you are a Waldorf teacher in a Waldorf School, please chime in.
Some people ask at what age should an Early Years child begin with beeswax modeling. I have seen some say as early as two or three years old. I think in the home environment of Waldorf homeschooling, early experiences with modeling would include being outside with sand, beach, river clay, and also with domestic experiences such as bread dough shaping. I find bringing beeswax modeling to a five and six year old to be a good place to begin (unless you have older students and your four year old is clamoring to have a piece too!)
In our next post, we will look at how to begin.