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.
I actually have the book Basic Sculptural Modeling and it is an excellent read. She gives a good case for using clay to model what are referred to in Waldorf as “pure forms.” I have used it with some wonderful success on a few fronts. I started working with it a few years ago with a few of my children, they were grade 1, grade 7 and grade 9 at the time. My then 9th grader is my biggest challenge and the forming the clay into these pure forms was the calmest I this I have EVER seen him. My first grader was really struggling with grip and working with the clay for two weeks made an incredible difference. I am planning to use it as a foundation in our Modeling Intensive later this year. I found it to be very spot on. It doesn’t mean we are using clay in the place of beeswax, just in addition to. In fact the clay lessons in pure form were very separate from main lesson time when we did our other modeling.
Just my thoughts 🙂
Love to hear those success stories, Melisa! Thank you so much for sharing!
Ugh, forgive my typos!
Pingback: » The Beginner’s Guide to Beautiful Beeswax Modeling – Part One
I really enjoyed the Arthur Auer article you linked to. I especially appreciated this: “The issue I raise is the threat posed by a dogmatic mindset per se, where in the name of “best practice” any principle or method is fixed into the one-right-way. The reason we should be alert to even minor expressions of a dogmatic stance is because as a soul gesture it is the polar opposite of what makes education an art.”
There is so much to think about in just that one excerpt! I think this passage also relates to the conversations that have arisen about Waldorf homeschooling being a separate daughter movement insofar as it suggests that how it is done in Waldorf schools is not the only one-right-way to do Waldorf education.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Carrie! I’m compelled to read Auer’s modeling book again with new eyes…
Pingback: The Beginner’s Guide to Beautiful Beeswax Modeling–Part Two | The Parenting Passageway
Thanks for this great post, Carrie. And yes, children naturally have their first modeling experiences digging in the sand and dirt! And then they are ready to experience slightly more permanent mediums. Steiner mentioned a number of different modeling materials. It’s refreshing to have yet another example of the current practice in Waldorf schools not representing the only way, or the one-right-way. Thanks for the book recommendation too, Carrie, and to Melisa for sharing your experience working with clay with your early grades children at home. And as Carly points out, dogma does not serve us well when the goal is to become artists in the education of our children.