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 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 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.

Socks

Grade Five is having a wonderful time making socks in Handwork class. Six socks have been completed so far, and many more are on their way!