Do you have anything current in your teaching library?
I don’t! And Why IS That?
I am so tired of reading the same old books about Waldorf projects. I’ve seen all the projects. I’ve been on all the Pinterest boards. I’ve googled “waldorf xxxx” a gazillion times. I’ve read all the articles in the Waldorf online library. I want my brain to be set on fire by something new.
Of course some of the old stuff works
I know the old stuff works for many students and teachers. In fact, some of it is downright magical. I love the old projects that are still working for my students like
knitting bunnies in first grade. There is a magical moment when the child realizes that what they have been working on for so long really can turn into a useful and cute toy. I also love the way the 6th graders really start to love the stuffed, gusseted 3D animals they make. They knit them blankets. They make felt food stuffs for them. They are totally thinking of something outside of themselves and that is why I teach that lesson to a group of children who can be pretty consumed with their own worries. Yes, some of the old stuff works.
But my new student who came from another Waldorf school made a darning egg in their woodshop class last year…and he was very proud of it. I was surprised. Who is using darning eggs in this age? Are they also teaching darning at that school? Could I be doing that? I can’t imagine they would be doing that unless it works well for their students, so what am I missing? (You can tell me in the comments below!) I gave up the idea of making a darning egg in exchange for spinning tops instead. I love that the top still has the convex shape of an egg, but is also a usable item. It still teaches about grain direction (the recommendation given for the egg project in the classic book Will-Developed Intelligence.) Spinning tops also teach about physics. It teaches children that the project tells them when it is done because it spins and they don’t need to ask a teacher, “is this good?” They can judge their own work. Plus, having spinning contests on the last day of class is a built in celebration of our hard work. This, to my mind, the top is an updated version of the darning egg project recommended in some Waldorf Woodwork Curriculum guides and it is really working for me. Maybe the darning egg project is really working for others. But where is the guide inspiring me with these options? And what other ideas are out there that might be a better fit for what I am trying to accomplish for these young people? I want more for and from our community!
I started by making all the old projects
I tell you, I really wanted to be a handwork teacher. When I set that as a goal, I immediately started researching projects and what was behind all of them, how they worked on humans, what others were doing, everything I could lay my hands on. Then I put my hands to work. I made every single waldorfish project I could find on the web…the entire curriculum up through middle school and some of the high school projects. I taught myself woodworking. I learned to crochet. When I finally had a chance to apply for a handwork job (I was teaching in a kindergarten at the time), I was ready. I wheeled two full wire carts of handwork and woodwork projects into the interview with the hiring team.
My first year of teaching handwork and woodwork, I focused on the recommended projects from the guides and what everyone else seemed to be doing. I was not there to reinvent the wheel. I was there to learn.
What I learned from the traditional projects
Well, first I learned how to teach, how to manage a classroom, how to talk to encourage students and build skills, growth mindsets, deal with perfectionism and a lot about myself. I am still learning those things. Every day, baby!
I also learned how well the traditional projects fit the interest of students. I wasn’t sure fourth graders would actually like cross-stitch. I loved it but I am an old lady. Of course, they loved it and have loved it every year since. They ask for Aida cloth for Christmas! This happened over and over.
I learned that some projects seemed way too challenging for my students. Many of my students had come from homeschool situations or public schools. They didn’t have the experience of the students I was reading about on the blogs of handwork teachers from across the country. I learned that I needed to do a lot of skill building and that what happens in first impacts what a student can do in fifth.
I learned that the project is just the beginning. Knit a flute case? Easy! Teach color appreciation, reverence, beauty, will-development, attention, counting, persistence, and how to be in a classroom all through a flute case (and all while telling stories, singing, trying to learn 50 first graders names and keep anyone from getting overwhelmed)? Not easy!
I learned that some of the reasons given for choosing certain projects for certain ages sounded great in the book but seemed to have scant evidence with my actual students. I am still not convinced that cross-stitch actions actually cross the mid-line. I am not sure that all the advice about different sculpture materials for different ages is spot on. I think there are some holes in the curriculum guides–like why is crochet introduced once and then never spoken of again in many curriculum outlines? It is only fun when you get really good at it and middle schoolers love crochet!
Now, I see Waldorf Teachers are doing AMAZING projects with their students. They are clearly responding to what the children in front of them need. This is not a static art. I see a lot of innovation…just not in the literature.
I hope you would love to have a conversation about all this! This is one of the many reasons the Wool Wood Wax Teaching Workshop for Waldorf Woodwork, Handwork, and Practical Arts Teachers came into being. I hope you will come and disagree or agree with me in person…Summer 2020.
What are the Standard Waldorf Handwork Practical Arts Curriculum Guides?
My desk came with one book: Will-Developed Intelligence by David Mitchell and Patricia Livingston, 1999. A good start.
Soon the whole school read: The Tasks and Content of the Steiner-Waldorf Curriculum by Tobias Richter, 2000. A through document.
I soon found my way to Educating the Will by Michael Howard, 2004. I immediately changed the way I taught making wooden spoons and 4th grade cross-stitch based on this book.
Then, when I had my feet under me I came to Educating Through Arts and Crafts edited by Michael Martin, 1999. I haven’t really put this book (nor my highlighter) down since.
Of course, I have others. A lot of photo copied bits of this and that. A scope and sequence I found on line here, a relevent article with project ideas there. Something someone brought back from Sunbridge or Threefold. However, the above are the ones I have used that truly are guides. Some I rarely open any more as I know exactly what is in them. Others just seem to live on my desk as I reference them all the time.
Maybe I am missing your favorite! Put it in the comments so I can check it out!
And where are the Waldorf Woodwork curriculum guides?
Woodworking is paramount to my curriculum. I think of it as the culmination of all that form drawing, sand table, beeswax and clay modeling and sensory works we do with our students. Where are all those good books?
And basketry! The rant continues…
Am I just out here on my own with basketry? It is the craft that let humans be mobile. Without a basket you cannot move your seed stores up the river to a new site….civilization expands through baskets. Do I need to write the Waldorf Basketry book all by myself! Sheesh!
I encourage you to be the one to step up
All of this is to say, I think we have a lot of knowledge at school’s across the country and I want access to it. I’d like a few of you smart people to step up and share it. Maybe write a book. Maybe submit a guest post about your work in these areas. Maybe speak at Wool Wood Wax.
I believe in you. I know you can do hard things. I can’t wait to see what you do next! Love, Mrs. Albert.