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

 

 

 

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 8

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 8 lined bag

Greetings Grade 8 Parents:

I wanted to let you know a little bit about our plans for Eighth Grade Handwork.  In our array of handwork tools, the sewing machine is the most complex.  We work with it during eighth grade as the students learn about the industrial revolution; a practical demonstration of the incredible changes technology can bring.   It is always interesting to observe the children as they take their first turn on the machine.  Some of them go so cautiously that the machine barely runs, while others have lead foots and have difficulty stopping and staying on an even line.  They are steering with their hands, accelerating with one foot and learning to keep their fabric within the boundaries.  Add to this picture the fact that they must learn to anticipate when to stop and how to reverse and you will see why I often refer to sewing machine work as an early driver’s ed experience.

Our first project this year will be the last one you see- we will make a lined bag that will be used to keep our projects in for the remainder of the term.  This bag is a WSA tradition, and for good reason.  It has a fairly simple construction, allowing students who are new to the sewing machine to learn how to sew straight lines, to keep an even 5/8” seam allowance, and to pivot.  In order to make the lining, they have to cut and sew an exact replica of their first piece so that the two fit together.  Sewing is completed by stitching two seams – one close and the other very close to the top edge, creating a casing for a drawstring.  Once this project is complete your child should be able to repair all those shorts and hoodies that have lost their drawstrings!

With the completion of the bag the children should have a basic familiarity with the machine and sewing seams, and begin to be able to visualize garment construction.  This will prepare us for our next project, pajama pants.  Skills sets introduced here include reading and following written instructions from a pattern, sewing accurate curves, and measuring to fit.

Once the pj bottoms are completed, the children will be allowed to select a final handwork project.  Choices include pieced pillow cases with French seams, decorative pillows, and skirts.   Depending on the student’s experience and expertise, they may select a more complex project not on this list.

The eighth grade has handwork every Friday afternoon. It has been my delight to have worked with many of your children since we leaned to knit together in first grade.  It is my hope that we both enjoy our time together this year, and that we bring strong focus and good intent as we create our last handwork pieces together.

Ms. Bulmer and I are very grateful for the opportunity to work with your children, and look forward to a wonderful eighth grade experience.    Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns about the handwork curriculum.

Thank you,

Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher 

 

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 7

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 7 felt slippers

Greetings Grade 7 Parents:

I wanted to let you know a bit about our plans for this year’s handwork classes.  In seventh grade handwork the students experience the ancient art of felting.  We will explore the uses of felt throughout history and learn about the various qualities of this amazing natural textile.  Both strength and delicacy are required for felting.  The students are expected to participate fully and learn to weigh the effects of the force they exert as they track the course of their projects from airy fluff to sturdy pieces.  Felting meets the children on a visceral level.  It is hard work to be a seventh grader, in part because the child is growing so fast and is confronted with so many physical changes.  Felting assists this transition and helps address the awkwardness of growing so quickly by awakening tactile sensitivity.  To successfully complete a felted piece, the children need to hone their powers of observation, evaluate the state of their project and decide for themselves when and where to apply force.  They learn that simply standing up and leaning into their work can have a significant effect: they must engage in order to progress.  This process of observation and evaluation supports the methodology used in science class, where experiments will be witnessed and documented.

We will begin the year with a very simple introductory project – a juggling ball.  This project uses four layers – pellets for filling, a cover (a knee high stocking), a layer of wool and another cover. This is a fun way to teach simple felting concepts that will be employed throughout the year.   Next we will learn flat felting techniques to make a circle mat.  This project requires a delicate touch, and teaches the children how to carefully edge their work for a nice finish.

From here we will move on to slippers.  This project presents an opportunity to think and work in three dimensions.  We will utilize a resist in order to create layers and shape a flat piece into a three dimensional object.  I think of slippers as the seventh grade answer to third grade hats.  When the children were going through their nine year old change we made hats as a “shelter” for their burgeoning individuality.  In seventh grade the children are in the throes of another stage of development, and felting around their own feet is a grounding experience that brings awareness to and acceptance of their constantly changing physical bodies.

As seventh graders the children will be focusing on the sciences and studying the age of exploration, when brave individuals confronted the unknown.  During our time together we will look into how it is that friction, soap and heat can turn fluff into a fabric that withstands the elements and has housed, clothed and protected people all around the world.  We will also hear stories about textiles, and how the quest for higher quality wool and more vibrant dyestuffs lent impetus to explorers who traveled the world, questing for the colors which shaped empires and defined nations.

Ms. Bulmer and I are very grateful for the opportunity to work with your children this year.   Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions about our work this year or the handwork curriculum in general.

Thank you,

Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher

 

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 6

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 6 interlaced embrodery

Dear Grade Six Parents:

I am writing to share some information about this year’s sixth grade handwork curriculum.

My goal for this year is to infuse the children with knowledge of fine needle work, which requires a completely different skill set than the work done in other grades and challenges the children to hone their fine motor skills very precisely.  In review: fourth grade’s cross stitch provided them with the opportunity to sew rhythmically, cross the midline repeatedly, learn pattern recognition and introduce a small needle.  Now, two years later, they are flying without the net as there are no well -placed holes showing them exactly where to put the next stitch.  They must observe their work carefully, estimate where the stitch should go, and follow that inner directive and sightline.

Towards that end, we will begin the year with needle books.  This practice piece is made from plant dyed felt, which is a forgiving fabric and allows us to learn how to begin, master the stitch, end the thread and hide ends.  The felt can handle many “missteps” and lends itself well to a smooth and even appearance.  Most of the work on the needle book will be done in backstitch, which produces a continuous line of straight stitches.  Backstitch is also the primary stitch used in their major project for the year.

That project is a herd of bison.   This is a project Carol and I have specially created for your children.

We will be working closely with each child to assist in drawing a bison picture, from which we will draft individual patterns. We will carefully preserve the childlike nature of the drawings so that the finished projects will reflect the person who made it.  After drafting the patterns we will transfer them to fabric and begin sewing.  This will prove to be a tricky bit of work, because it involves adding a seam allowance to the drawing and visualizing how the pieces should come together to make a three dimensional object.  The focus on realism and accurate measurement supports the work Mr. Smith will be presenting in geometric drawing.

As with last year’s sock project, bison will take up the remainder of the year.  Hopefully the children will enjoy watching their drawings come to life.  As we go, we will learn more about the animal. Each child will be responsible for a brief oral presentation (2 minutes) on some aspect of the bison.  The children will receive handwork grades this year.  The grade is based on the effort they exhibit, participation, including assisting in preparation and group clean up, and participation in the report project.

Please email me  if you have any questions about our handwork curriculum for this year.

Thank you,
Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher

Grade 6 sewn lion

Lion created in Grade 6

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 5

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.  

socks

Greetings Grade 5 Parents:

Welcome to the year of socks!  Making socks in the fifth grade is a Waldorf tradition because socks contain a world of knitting know-how in a small package.  For those of you who “speak knitting”, the following skills are addressed:  knitting, purling, ribbing, stockinette, following a written pattern, working on four needles in the round, picking up stitches, shaping and creating curves.  Basically, this translates to the following: if you can knit a sock, you can knit just about anything. Working in the round extends knitting into three dimensions – developing a spatial awareness that comes in handy during 6th, 7th and 8th grade as well.

We will start the year making a small gnome project.   The gnome will be used as a swatch, which allows us to evaluate your child’s knitting style and decide what size needles they need – and how many stitches they will need for their socks.  In addition, it offers a small sampling of most of the skills listed above.  If your child does not yet know how to knit, we will take extra care at this time to make sure that the basic skills are mastered before beginning socks.  There are several new knitters in the class this year, but we anticipate that, with some support, everyone will be able to complete this project.

The children will also make handwork books into which they will copy the patterns for gnomes and socks.  Here they are exercising writing and copying skills, and later they will learn to follow the written instructions.

In order to complete this project before the year is through, I will eventually give the children the option of taking one of their socks for homework once they are firmly established in their work. Homework is not required unless it becomes apparent that an individual will be unable to complete their socks before the end of the year.  Only one sock is allowed to go home at a time, in case the child forgets to bring it back and thus looses a week’s worth of class.  Both socks are created simultaneously, so that they repeat a skill as soon as they learn it, reinforcing the lesson.

The children are growing in so many ways. The year long project is one way we meet their increasing maturity.  Another is the double period.  This year the fifth grade will have handwork once a week for a double period on Wednesday afternoon.   Generally it takes a few weeks for the children to adjust to this novelty.  We will be sure to vary activities during the first part of the year in order to help keep them alert during the long stretch.  We have had one class so far, and the children were excited and eager to go.  Ms. Bulmer and I are truly delighted to be working with the children- their enthusiasm and excitement is contagious.

Please note that this year the children are being offered a choice of yarn types.   I am offering our traditional, gorgeous plant dyed wool/mohair blend.  This beautiful yarn is very soft.  However, it will shrink to the size of a toddler bootie if you accidentally wash it in warm water or agitate it in a machine.

Having destroyed many socks this way myself, I decided to offer a more hardworking alternative.  Therefore, we are also offering a superwash yarn.  This yarn can go through the washer easily, and will even survive the dryer without loosing wear-ability.  It is made from wool that has been treated in order to prevent shrinkage.  The superwash yarn is commercially dyed.  I am allowing the children to choose which type of yarn they use.  Should you have strong feelings in either direction, please speak with your child about his or her choice.

As always, if you should have any questions about the program, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thank you,

Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher

Grade 5 socks

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 4

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 4 pincushion

Dear Fourth Grade Parents:

Welcome to the new school year!  I wanted to reach out to you to share some information about this year’s handwork curriculum.

Our primary medium in grade four is cross stitch.  This gives us an opportunity to focus on very fine motor skills, working with a sharp needle and learning a cross stitch technique that incorporates crossing the midline with each stitch.  Midline work actually permeates the entire fourth grade curriculum: it can be found in knotted form drawings, eurythmy movements, games classes, and class warm up activities.  Among other things, crossing the midline supports mathematical skills that the children are learning at this time.

Of course there are many ways to cross stitch, but the Waldorf style works within a carefully defined form.  Children use their dominant hand to do all of the stitching, learning to swoop the needle from the front of the canvas, across the back and out the front again in one continuous motion.  This task sharpens eye hand coordination and develops pattern recognition.

We also work with color theory.  Six rainbow colors are available in three shades each.  For our first major project, a bookmark, the children are allowed to choose two color families, giving them six different shades.  The bookmark is intended to be a conversation between these colors.  Limiting this project to two color families really sharpens the children’s awareness of subtitles of shading and hue.  While some of the color “conversations” are simple and straightforward, others are amazingly complex.  Nonetheless, the available palette guarantees that all the bookmarks will be beautiful.

Finally, the bookmark form previews the work the children will be doing with fractions and plotting points in space.  All colors on the bookmark are duplicated on the left and right sides, so if you were to fold it in half it would be a mirror image.  Essentially, this is two halves.  Once the children have mastered this process, we will move on to pincushions, which are done in quarters with the added complexity of a centerline.  In this case the form the children create will duplicate itself in all directions, including diagonally.  Our fourth graders will be using color to plot points on a gridline in all four directions.

Fourth grade cross stitch is delightful balance of form and freedom.  Through use of symmetry and simple color choices, the children create truly beautiful designs that are always unique, reflecting something of the nature of the artist.  Cross stitch one of the most popular subjects we teach in Handwork.   I look forward to working with your children again this year.   Should you have any questions about the Handwork program, please feel free to contact me.

Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher

cross stitch floss

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 3

 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.  

IMG_0264

Dear Third Grade Parents:

Now that the year is off and running, I wanted to update you regarding our plans for Handwork Class this year.   Third grade is all about crochet.  During first and second grade, the children worked with knitting, which used both hands working in unison in a balanced gesture.  Now that we are beginning the nine year old change, we are working with crochet, which focuses on building dexterity in the dominant hand.

We begin by we are just learning to hold our hook and pull through stitches.  We will practice this skill for several classes, during which the children will make three long crocheted cords, which will be braided into a belt.

Once everyone is comfortable with the form, we will begin working on a mug mat.  Crochet stitches are more difficult to count than knitted stitches, and we will spend some time focusing on starting with 12 stitches and ending with the same number when we finish a new row.  This challenge requires the children to perform multiple steps in sequence.  The crochet stitch itself comes in two parts (“catch and pull through and then catch and pull through two”).  Crocheting along a row requires the children to complete the entire stitch twelve times, use visual cues to recognize the stitches from the previous row, and remember to add an extra stitch that will allow them to turn without loosing a stitch.   All of this goes into making their first little square, which will be our mug mat.  Learning a new type of needle work is always a challenging business; the third grade will be required to work together to cultivate patience and support one another while they take up this new work.

Once we have the basics established and the mug mats are complete, we will begin working on pouches. New skills learned for this project include working in the round and changing colors.  The pouch will be a conversation between two shades of the same color, beginning with the darker shade and working up to the light color at the top.  We will learn double crochet or “tall stitch” at the top, in order to make a hole for the lacing cord, which will be done using another new technique called butterfly cord.  Butterfly cord is like double finger chaining, and again it represents a step up, challenging the children to build upon skills they have already mastered by increasing the complexity.

Later this year we will complete our study of circular crochet by making a hat.  This is a classic third grade project, because it interweaves so nicely with the shelter aspects of the curriculum.  A hat is, at its most basic, a shelter for the head.  During the nine year old change there is nothing like using your will forces to create your own protection.  You might remember those sunny kindergarten days, when the teachers made sure everyone had on their hat and boots before a walk.  Now that the children are growing into caring for themselves, they experience making this most basic protective garment on their own.

The remainder of the year will be taken up with other practical projects, such as pencil cases.  Toward the middle of the third grade the children begin to work more independently at their own pace.  By the end of the year some of the children may be working on extra projects.

It is, as always, a great pleasure to work with your children.  Ms. Bulmer and I very much enjoy our time with them.  If you have any questions about the handwork program or your child’s work, please feel free to contact me.

Lisa Roggow, Handwork Teacher

grade 3 mug mat, pencil case and hat

Handwork at the Waldorf School of Atlanta – Grade 2

 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 2 lamb

Dear Second Grade Parents:

Welcome back!  I wanted to update you about the work your children will be doing in Handwork class this year.  Our second grade handwork classes are all about knitting.   We will be sharpening our skills with a variety of challenges.  During our first few classes we will roll yarn to be used throughout the year.  This is a team building activity which helps to warm up the hands for the work we have to do and improves coordination.  After this work is completed, we will begin the knitting curriculum for the year.  Please bear in mind that second grade children do not know what they will be making ahead of time – we like to keep the element of surprise alive as long as possible.  So please don’t tell your children what lies ahead!

Our first project will be rainbow balls.  In this work we will learn to change colors.   In addition, both this project and the one following help to reinforce mathematical operations in knitting.  Each “ridge” in knitting takes two rows to make.  Our rainbow ball will have four ridges of each color.  We will practice counting these rows over and over again to ensure that our rainbow ball has a beautiful round shape.  Once the ball is knitted we will have a great deal of work in sewing up, with 24 ends to hide.  We will learn to gather and make square knots as well. Next we will embark on a gnome project, which reinforces the skills above and adds in the challenge of decreasing.  Later in the year we will work with more complex projects involving shaping.  Finally, we will complete our second grade work by bringing in the purl stitch, which is a mirror image of the knit.

Most of the projects the children will make this year are toys: animals and fairy tale creatures supplement and reinforce the work the children are doing with Ms. Wright in Main Lesson.

In addition, we will present the children an opportunity to give back: extra projects that will eventually become gifts for the kindergarten teachers will be brought in for students who are ahead in their work or who are waiting for help.

Ms. Bulmer and I are looking forward to a year filled with growth and possibility, as we help the children’s hands to fly!  If you have any questions about this year’s curriculum, feel free to contact me.

Thank you,

Lisa RoggowHandwork Teacher 

 Grade 2 knitted gnome

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.