A great emphasis in Steiner schools is placed on students creating and learning with their hands. Handwork lessons are more than a means of promoting dexterity and skill. Handwork is an essential element for the harmonious development of the student. Such work challenges them to grow in direct and powerful ways. Rudolf Steiner was very particular about this. He saw the danger of the modern student losing the skill and confidence of making something “with their own hands” and he observed in traditional cultures a vital ingredient for a healthy education. Through handwork the child’s thinking, feeling and will develop in a healthy way:
Although many of the crafts have their own formal lessons, crafts are also integrated throughout the curriculum. In Prep the students encounter a material such as wool and learn its tactile qualities. They use it to make gnomes and stuffed cushions. In the Primary School students incorporate a host of natural materials into their lessons, especially natural materials such as wood, plant fibre, leaves, bark, clay, water, material, paper and so on. Fine motor skills are developed early through activities such as weaving, knitting, threading needles, sewing, crochet and modelling in beeswax. Gross motor skills are involved in kneading in clay, felting, sawing and hammering. The students learn specific technical skills in using different materials and tools.
An integrated curriculum of soft craft activities moves from sewing and knitting in the earliest years to the creation of hats, vests, slippers, dyeing, weaving and felting in upper primary. Natural materials of wool and silk are used. Children may make costumes for the class plays. Class 8 use sewing machines to make simple garments. Woodwork develops from whittling and carving bows, arrows, boats and toys to carpentry in the secondary school. Basket weaving and glasswork may also be introduced in class 8. Clay modelling develops into pottery. Painting and drawing begin to be taught as separate disciplines from class 7 onwards, eg. perspective drawing, black and white drawing as are print-making and sculpture. In our Inspired Learning curriculum, normally at least one group per term is dedicated to a hard creative activity (sculpture, metalwork, claywork etc).
The impact a sense of achievement in these areas can have on a student’s confidence is enormous. Their sense of accomplishment and focus required to complete a piece of work translates across into their other schoolwork. An integral part of a Steiner education, handwork grounds the student with the sense of will to meet the challenges of work and to do it well. Healthy pride, patience, application, realism, creativity and focus are all elements that handwork nurtures in the young person.