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.
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