Working with our hands can bring many gifts to us. Music, the arts, practical daily tasks, the feeling of a warm handshake, but to name a few. When our hands are sensitive, skilful and strong we can start feeling a sense of confidence in our ability to become capable independent individuals.

The Waldorf curriculum strives to instil this innate confidence in children by guiding them through a gradual process involving heads, heart and hands in their daily rhythm.

“The handwork and practical arts curriculum in the Waldorf School stimulates the creative powers, while at the same time it establishes aesthetic confidence through conscious guidance of the students developing will. The WILL is the power within us that allows us, through our deeds, to interact with the world. But most importantly, this WILL actively lays the foundation for our thinking” says David Mitchell in the book “Will developed intelligence; handwork and the practical arts curriculum in the Waldorf schools. Handwork for a Waldorf child is introduced much earlier than knitting in Class 1.

Handwork begins in the Waldorf Kindergarten and Playgroup. At this age, things that are done by the children are done in response, in imitation of what grown-up people do in their surroundings. Children this age also love to move and express themselves in practical activities. It may appear as the chopping of vegetables for soup, the kneading of dough for bread, setting the table for mealtimes, making a belt from a finger chain or a crown from flowers, or even the act of tying your shoelaces.

Nature can also serve as the cradle of the handwork experience for the very young child. Her constant but changing presence throughout the seasons provides the young child with a treasure chest filled with possibility for experimentation and exploration. Children are always wanting to experiment by forming something with their hands by using leaves, mud, seeds and water. Each season offers its gifts connecting the child to the seasonal rhythm by using its offerings to make, shape, thread or bake. These simple activities are the foundation for a sense of self-reliance, where children start to develop and build an unconscious pool of knowledge and confidence. It is from this reservoir which they can draw from in later subjects such as physics, geometry or other areas of mathematics and science.

Handwork and craft have specific tasks within the Waldorf curriculum, namely to awaken creative imaginative powers, and the important work of developing the will, the doing aspect linked to their hands and use of their limbs. This all supports the young child to develop a healthy imagination and to integrate the unfolding will and feeling life, so necessary during these stages of development.

In summary, one can say handwork assists children with:

  • Moving from play to meaningful work.
  • Awakening feeling through working with colour and the very act of creating.
  • Making a connection between mankind and nature.
  • Bringing a tactile awareness of materials used from nature and the earth.
  •  A sense of gratitude and reverence for the earth’s gifts which are inherently appreciated.
  • Achieving a balance in the sense that handwork strengthens forces that are weak; strengthens thinking in the dreamy child, feeling in the overly intellectual child and stimulates activity in the weak-willed child.
  • Building confidence in their abilities.
  • Developing patience and perseverance, with beginning something and finishing something and that a handwork project takes time to complete.
  • The ability to concentrate and focus.
  • The enjoyment of creating and making something.
  • Naturally, children enjoy handwork and get a lot of pleasure out of it.

From: Will developed intelligence; handwork and the practical arts curriculum in the Waldorf schools: David Mitchell