Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta

As human beings, we use our hands regularly in our daily lives. At Waldorf, the Handwork curriculum is broad and includes skills such as knitting, crocheting, hand sewing, embroidery, felting, paper crafts, pattern design, and machine sewing.

Many of the benefits of the Handwork program are obvious: hand-eye coordination; basic math skills such as counting, the four math processes, and basic geometry; the ability to understand and follow a process from concept to completion; and the ability to focus on a project for an extended period of time.

There are also more subtle rewards that complement these obvious benefits. Students must prepare and care for materials. Many of the created items have a practical use – a case for a flute, a needle book, a pair of socks. Design and color choice allow for individual creative expression. One of the most far-reaching benefits of Handwork class is the social aspect. While there are times when quiet is needed, such as when you are learning a new stitch, most of the time the atmosphere in the classroom is social and conversational, not unlike a quilting bee. Students learn to speak politely to one another. Throughout the process, respect is fostered.

At the Waldorf School of Atlanta all first graders learn how to knit. This basic skill uses both right and left hands, and brings a steady, calming rhythm to the younger child. Crocheting, which emphasizes the right or left hand, almost always follows in the second or third grade. Cross-stitch is paramount to fourth grade as the children begin crossing over from childhood to adolescence. In fifth grade, knitting in the round, used to make hats, mittens, and socks, is a three dimensional, mathematical activity leading up to critical thinking in the middle school. Long-term hand-sewing projects involving concepts, patterns, and mathematical computations are usually found in sixth or seventh grade. The eighth grade Handwork curriculum often involves machine sewing, which perfectly integrates the student’s study of American History and the Industrial Revolution.

We hope you enjoy the Handwork series on our blog:

Grade 1 handwork

Grade 2 handwork

Grade 3 handwork

Grade 4 handwork

Grade 5 handwork

Grade 6 handwork

Grade 7 handwork

Grade 8 handwork

Our Handwork Teacher is Lisa Roggow.

lroggow photo

 

 

 

Spanish Language program at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 1

The Spanish Language program at the Waldorf School of Atlanta is led by Catalina De Luna Garza.  A review of the Language Program can be found on our website and specific insights into teaching each grade are found in these letters to the parents.

sra de luna headshot

Dear First Grade Parents,

Teaching the first grade has been a delightful experience. Since the very first day, the children in class were waiting expectantly for their first Spanish lesson. They have two classes a week; sessions started at twenty minutes long and will gradually grow to a forty-minute lesson.  The form and content of the Spanish language class for lower grades is very similar to the morning circle in main lesson.

The class is organized in a rhythmical flow of “in-breathing” and “out-breathing”; keeping a healthy rhythm is essential for 6 and 7 year olds. In the beginning of the class the children stand up and begin to repeat verses, songs, and movements. As children’s capacity for imitation and recitation at this age is at its peak, the child can absorb the language in its totality, instinctively, by habit.

During the second phase of the lesson, the children sit down and are prepared to receive a content that requires greater concentration. We play games where some brief dialogues are practiced, or new vocabulary is introduced. In the beginning pupils respond chorally, but some individual questions would appear from time to time. They also hear stories that are familiar to them in their native language, such as “The Little Red Hen”, or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. This concentration time is followed by activities such as dancing or games that provide a more relaxed form. Finally we all recite our closing verse to conclude our time together.

Spanish is extremely rich in poetry, and has many examples of lively and imaginative poems. Through such offerings the child enters the soul of a culture, even though he/she may not yet understand the meaning of what he/she is repeating. The formative qualities of language enrich the child’s feelings. Little by little, all this world of songs, verses, and movement is transformed in later years into rapid learning allowing the child to have a total experience of the language.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding the Spanish lessons, please do not hesitate to contact me by e-mail.

Sincerely,

Catalina De Luna Garza, Spanish Teacher at WSA

sra de luna at holiday fair

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 1

 

The Handwork Curriculum at the Waldorf School of Atlanta is led by Lisa Roggow.    Her loving care of the children is evident in these letters to parents of each grade.  

grade 1 knitted chick

Dear Grade One Parents:

In all likelihood we will begin having first grade handwork class next week.  Before we begin I would like to give you a preview of the work which we will be doing.

A great deal of the first grade curriculum, in every class, has to do with working in a circle – both literally and metaphorically.   While we generally stay seated in Handwork class, we do reinforce that circular gesture.    One of the most important ways we do this is to work together, at a similar pace.   It is very important that the children’s early exposure to handwork be in a non-competitive, supportive environment.   Ultimately, our goal is to nurture a sense of confidence and capability in the children.   This unfolds most naturally when the process is non-stressful and reverential.

Therefore, the early part of our year will be spent reinforcing skills they may have learned in kindergarten, specifically making twisted ropes and finger chaining.   Not only are these activities fun, but they also wake up the fingers and strengthen fine motor skills.  Also, in the case of twisted ropes, they require team work, which is an excellent activity to help form relationships in a new class.  Next we will take a closer look the medium we will be using for the next two years and play with raw wool.  We will hear about where it comes from and how it is turned into yarn.  We will make bits of yarn and poof it up into clouds.  All these activities are a fun way to heighten the children’s tactile sense and get them accustomed to the materials.

When the children are all ready we will move on to making our knitting needles.   We do this by taking a pair of dowels and sanding vigorously with two or three different grades of sandpaper, until they feel as smooth as glass.  Then we rub beeswax onto the needles to condition them, and finally we rub and rub with a soft piece of felt in order to polish the wax in and clean the surface off.    By the time the needles are done the children will be ready to have the eighth graders come and teach them to knit.   They will be a more experienced class, with knowledge of  many of the skills important in first grade, such as knowing when to leave your seat and when to stay in it, when to raise your hand and when to ask for help.   And so they will hear our knitting story…

I will them about a little shepherd who has ten sheep to watch over.   As the story progresses, the sheep all disappear one by one.  The shepherd goes on a journey to find the sheep, and discovers them behind a fence in a pasture.   She calls to them, but they cannot come past the fence.   So the little shepherd goes “under the fence, catches a sheep, brings it through, and off it leaps”.   This is our knitting verse, and it gives a name to each step in knitting a stitch.  As the children become more experienced knitters we can diagnose problems with the language this verse provides – for instance I may tell a child who has wrapped his yarn around the needle twice that he caught an extra sheep.  The children who know the verse immediately know what happened and are able to correct the problem the next time.

Before the eighth graders arrive, the children will choose their color and my assistant, Ms. Bulmer and I will cast on  ten “sheep” and knit a few rows for everyone so that the children have something to hold on to when they begin knitting.   The older students are already looking forward to working with the first grade during these two magical class periods.

After that visit we will work for a few weeks on finishing up a small piece about the size of an adult hand.  To promote that feeling of working together, Ms. Bulmer and I will try to ensure that we are all working at about the same pace, checking all the work before class, fixing the many little mistakes that crop up and keeping the work at about the same level of completion.   These first little pieces will be sewn together and turned into bean bags for the classroom.   As adults, we are often very aware of small errors in our work, which can be discouraging.   Some children, when they are first learning, will often joyously gloss right over such things, caught up in the wonder of their new skill.   Turning this first work into bean bags not only gives us an opportunity to work in a circle by making something for the group, but it also gives the handwork teachers the flexibility to turn these first pieces into something that the children will see are of real use in their world.

With this first bit of knitting under our belts, we begin knitting in earnest, and you will most likely see three projects coming home after midyear.  Their needles will come home at the end of the year and we will use school needles in second grade.  With each project we do through the end of second grade we will add another skill to the student’s knitting repertoire and continue to reinforce old skills.

I am looking forward to getting to know your children.  Should you have any questions about  our work together, feel free to drop by the handwork room or email me.

Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher

grade 1 -knitting needles and cat

MATHEMATICAL THINKING IN WSA HANDWORK PROGRAM

A flourishing handwork program is one of the unique hallmarks of Waldorf education. Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the creator of this educational system, identified handwork as an important component, famously remarking that “knitting is cosmic thinking.” But how are we to interpret this concept, and what relevance does handwork have today? Remarkably, recent research, such as Frank R. Wilson’s The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, elucidates Dr. Steiner’s observation, and begins to show why working with the hands supports the development of logical and mathematical thinking.

At WSA, our handwork program covers a variety of crafting knowledge including knitting, crochet, cross stitch, hand sewing, wet felting and machine sewing. Each of these areas facilitates the development of coordination and fine motor skills through the wide variety of techniques presented and mastered as the children move through the grades. In addition, these activities support the acquisition of new math skills as they are presented by the class teachers and stimulate thinking through awakening the hands.

grade 1 knitted chickGrade 2 knitted gnome

At WSA, we begin our handwork journey in first and second grades with knitting. In The Recovery of Man in Childhood, Steiner remarks “…both boys and girls should learn to knit. This is good training for the fingers in skillfulness, but it is far more than that. The rhythmical thinking with the fingers which knitting demands grows with the child, and when he grows up the man will think more cogently and more harmoniously because the child practiced this skill just at a time when his first independent thinking was born.”

During these first two years in handwork class, we are overtly working with basic math facts and number sense. We are continually counting our stitches, and discovering what happens when we lose one or gain two. Later we learn that “ridges” are made by knitting two rows, and the children delightfully calculate that two ridges are equal to four rows. Ambitious second grade mathematicians might discover that their rainbow ball, which is made of four ridges each of six colors, has a total of 48 rows or 24 ridges. They will continue to progress through several patterns which provide questions in applied mathematics. For instance, our washcloth begins with three stitches and adds one lace stitch per row. It continues to grow until 30 stitches are reached. But how to maintain the lace pattern and make the washcloth shrink back to 3 stitches again, thus creating a serviceable square? The answer is to take away one stitch, (-1) add the lace stitch (+1) and finally take away one stitch more (-1).

As the second graders knit their way through this question, their nimble fingers are, as Steiner indicates, absorbing much more than how to make a washcloth. They are developing number sense in a practical, meaningful way, and they are learning how to think.

Conversely, sensory integration researchers have shown that children with certain arithmetic challenges show a high incidence of finger agnosia – they are unable to identify the position of their fingers in space. Knitting in Waldorf schools provides regular “rhythmical thinking with the fingers” that awakens motor control and brings the children’s awareness to their hands.

 grade 3 mug mat, pencil case and hat

After two years of knitting, the children are generally quite dexterous with their needles, and are ready to move on to another challenge. In third grade we bring crochet. Third graders are increasingly aware of themselves as individuals, and as they are stepping into the world we present a form of handwork that relies on the dominant hand. However you knit, both hands will have to work the needles to some degree. But crochet works with one hook. With that hook our third graders work to create a variety of useful everyday objects which all have a practical purpose in the real world.

In this pragmatic tone, we do not forget our math skills. Third graders have to learn to “read” their crochet. First they identify their own stitches, and then they move on to working with patterns of stitches. For instance, circular items begin with a 10 stitch round. If they are to stay circular, we must add stitches as the project grows, or it will begin to curve up and make a bowl shape quite quickly. The practical exploration of this concept resulted first in a flute case, which started with 10 stitches, grew to 20 and stayed there. As a result, the base curved up into a pouch shape, which was elongated to a tube.

Next we are ready to try a more complex sequence. Our rainbow circle mats deepen the concept of the circumference – we are trying to make a large flat piece, and so we must go from 10 stitches to 20. Soon this will not be enough, and we again work to increase the circumference by doubling our stitches. This is accomplished by identifying each stitch in the circle and placing two stitches into it on the next round. And so we have 40. From here third graders begin to work with the individual nature of their own creation, using their observation to determine when and how to add stitches in order to expand the circumference of their work evenly. This provides an opportunity for working in patterns: 2 stitches in each stitch doubles, but a pattern of increasing every other stitch will work differently, as will increasing in every third stitch. And so our third grade handwork classes continue to strengthen fine motor skills and reinforce basic math skills such as counting, addition and subtraction, but they also add number patterns and a smattering of practical geometry and fractions.

 grade 4 pincushion

Fourth grade brings greater intensity to our work with dexterity and fine motor skills. Now we take up small needles and cross stitch. Waldorf cross stitch is unique in that there are no patterns to follow except those which the children create themselves. In main lesson, the class teacher is bringing the leap of faith that is fractions. In handwork we support this work by making bookmarks and pin cushions. The bookmark consists of a canvas that is divided into two equal halves. The children are set the task of filling every hole in their canvas with a color of their choosing – but they must mirror the design exactly on both halves of the canvas. This is a real world image of the concept of “one half ”. The children rise to the challenge of creating one thing which is exactly like another. Next, they move on to pincushions, which have a midline and four quarters. Here there is nothing for it but to plot a point in space – I have put one yellow stitch four steps over from the center and two steps in – and to plot its coordinating point in three other areas. The result is a design which is mirrored horizontally, vertically and diagonally, all four sections exactly alike; the representation of one quarter.

 Grade 5 socks

Fifth grade sock knitting is perhaps the culmination of our mathematical handwork experience. The children work on three needles at once, wielding a fourth to knit in a circle. By now most Waldorf children are so dexterous that they have very little difficulty adapting to this challenge. However, it is still a magical moment when, having worked a few rows back and forth in order to begin, they divide their work onto three different needles, bend it into a triangular shape and join it together so that they are suddenly working in the round. Even more interesting is the fact that once they are knitting in the round, they no longer have to alternate knitted and purled rows in order to create a smooth surface – now knitting alone will suffice because they are only working on one side of the surface. There are so many instances of flexible thinking and fascinating cases of applied mathematics in sock making that it would be impractical to address them all here, but suffice it to say that we work with percentages of our stitches and decrease using ratios (sets of 10, 20, 10 stitches become sets of 9, 18, 9).

All of the work mentioned above is encased in a form that is enticing to the children. Items the children have created with their own hands become so precious that they inspire a sense of reverence, and rightly so. In the creation of each of these projects we find experiences in applied mathematics and flexible thinking, in addition to a world of information about color and texture to stimulate other types of thinking and knowing. In this context, knitting is truly an experience in cosmic thinking.

In the larger world, researchers are continuing to discover connections between how we use our hands and how we learn to think. Meanwhile, young knitters in Waldorf schools develop number sense and work their way through problems in applied mathematics while they labor to create toys and practical items to enjoy.

~Lisa Roggow

Handwork Teacher

This article was originally printed in the March 2012 issue of the Garden Breeze of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

Thoughts for Summer from the Waldorf School of Atlanta

butterfly painting

Kindergarten:

As the school year ends the children are delighted with their new freedom. Life is filled with the warm sun shining down on us all. It is as if a burden of dark and cold has been lifted. It is time to be out, to shed clothes and shoes…to really feel the earth and grass on bare feet and connect with the light of the sun and stars. It is summer. Children have all the time in the world!

We parents are delighted when our children are happy and resilient. Children are more patient, tolerant, flexible, and happy when their life flows rhythmically. Rhythm isn’t a schedule. Schedules are goal oriented. Rhythm is life oriented. It is ebb and flow, again and again and again… with little variations on the way.

Follow this recipe to create your summer rhythm: repeating days, weeks, and traditions to make the summer season full, rich, and memorable. Even those of us who work can create days and weeks that have that summer feel.

*Take a few activities you love and that make it feel like summer such as:

Rolling in the grass, riding bikes, jump rope, swinging…

Swimming, grilling, working in the garden, blowing bubbles…

Walking to the park/lake/pool/creek, natural places to wade/play/build a dam

Concert in the park, camping in the back yard, hiking, making/eating popsicles…

Camping trip, hiking, visiting Grandma and Grandpa for a week, some summer camp days

 

Decide if these are daily, weekly, or seasonal activities…

*Add in daily/weekly activities such as chores that need to be done, grocery shopping, laundry, food prep, cleaning house, … Your children are such capable human beings. It is healthy for them to participate in the life of the family. It can even be a disservice to a child to always have things done for them.

* Downtime to do nothing! …Find beautiful stones and four-leaf clovers, Give your children time to breathe (and yourself too)! Give them the gift of time to get “bored”. It is actually healthy for your child to not know what to do. It takes an inner strength of will to pull one’s self out of that seemingly empty place. What a gift when the creative juices start flowing! How empowering!

*Combine and Alternate

Inside time/ outside time

Loud times /quiet times

Silly times/focused times = breathing in and out…breathing is healthy!

Regular meal times!

Sleep time: Kinder children still need to get those same 10-12 hours sleep each night and a nap/quiet time in the afternoon. Even on vacations children (young and old) need rhythm and sleep… and the adults too!

So, give your children time to feel the warmth of the sun on their skin, see the dust sparkle in the sunlight, smell new mown grass, hear the insects hum as they work…and breathe your days in and out… enjoy your summertime.

 

~Annamay Keeney

Kindergarten Teacher

bicycle

Grades 1-5:

As the summer months approach, the long days of summer seem like a dream come true. But after the first few weeks, many families struggle to find rewarding things to do with their children.  Of course there are wide range of camps available both at WSA and throughout the community but what else is there to do? Here are some fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to keep busy.

1. Become an investigative reporter – with a camera, students can take pictures of the world around them and make up stories to go with their pictures.

2. Gather up old greeting cards and create puzzles or collages.

3. Have your child make an obstacle course in the backyard and have the family take turns going through it. Who can complete the course in the fastest time?

4. Make a terrarium.

5. Find a place to volunteer with your child.

6. Invent board games

7. Explore making paper airplanes.

8. Create a sculpture with recyclable materials

9. Stargazing & story telling

10. Skip stones at the river

11. See a Shakespeare Play

12. Learn how to paddle a canoe

13. Hang and monitor a bird feeder

14. Celebrate a summer holiday (even if you make up your own)

15. Make Homemade Ice Cream!

Grades 6-8:

1. Encourage children to take on responsibility in areas of interest to them. (Volunteer at a veterinarian’s office, senior center or theatre.)

2. Physically challenge your children with activities like Outward Bound, hiking, white water rafting, rock climbing, water skiing or horseback riding.

3. Take them on an adventure with a purpose, i.e., not just a hike, but a hike to find the perfect camp site; not just a bike ride, but a bike ride to a lake for a swim.

4. Give them a job that will teach them to master a new skill (knot tying, bike repair, planning, shopping and preparing for a weekly dinner, building a camp fire, laying a stone path, tending a garden). Practical work will help them feel more competent.

5. Build a fort, shelter or tree house with your child.

6. Visit or volunteer on a farm (interactions with large animals help children learn how to adapt to another being’s needs).

7. Allow time for boredom. Let your child arrive at their own ideas for an activity, using imagination and initiative.

Often children have issues with focus and persistence in the face of obstacles. Encourage your child with activities such as these to help build their will, patience, motor skills, and sense of discipline.

 

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of the Garden Breeze Newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.

bench and flower pot

Grade One

Grade One chalkboard