Handwork is taught formally to the children from grades one through eight. In the kindergarten the students do many handwork projects without formal instruction. They learn through imitation and are given personal guidance from the kindergarten teacher or the assistant. Not all children in the kindergarten participate in making all the handwork projects but will participate as their interest directs them.
In grade one the students have handwork class two or three times a week. The students usually begin the year with a small sewing project. The rest of the year is devoted to learning to knit. The students start by making their own knitting needles and then, through an imaginative story, they learn to knit. The projects vary from year to year, but generally the students knit a variety of items that require a knitted square or rectangle that they sew into the desired item. All the items made are useful to daily life whether they become a washcloth, recorder case or a toy.
Knitting is taught specifically in first grade for a number of reasons. The type of knitting taught is called the Continental or the European form of knitting. It requires the use of both hands. This is important because not all the students have a right or left dominant hand, and this method of knitting is a two-handed method where neither hand dominates but both hands work together. There is a certain amount of left to right tracking for the eyes, and this is felt to be very useful for children that will learn to read soon.
In second grade the curriculum of the morning lesson takes all that was introduced in first grade and develops each skill further. This is the main reason why knitting continues in second grade for the whole year. The children make a smaller set of knitting needles and learn to purl, to add color, and to increase and decrease the number of stitches. Again a number of projects are made, but all in the order of the least difficult to the most difficult. The main goal in second grade is for the students to become confident in their knitting skills and to be able to accomplish the above skills without much, if any, help.
In the third grade the morning lesson curriculum emphasizes practical work, the use of different tools used to transform or make the raw materials of the earth into shelter, food and other necessities. This is the perfect time to hand the third graders a new tool to use. They learn to crochet with a crochet hook. They start by finger knitting like they did in kindergarten, and then they graduate to holding the yarn in a similar fashion to how it was held while knitting. They first use their right index finger as the hook, and eventually they are given a crochet hook to finish making a very simple braided belt. A number of projects are made in third grade, the main projects being a flute case and a hat. Other projects that have been made in third grade are a pencil case, ball bag, puppets, foot sacks, and treasure pouches. Along with crocheting, the third graders experience a sheep shearing and then learn to wash, card, and spin wool with a drop spindle. They will then weave a small item out of the yarn they have spun. Third graders have handwork twice a week.
By the time students enter fourth grade, it is important for them to have good control of their large and small motor movements. One thing that promotes this development is being able to cross the midline of one’s body. In fourth grade the students do a large cross-stitch project. The students need to make each stitch in a particular manner and also work with general guidelines for the placement of color on the bag. Each child experiences their own unique creative impulses at a time in their lives when they are more and more aware of themselves as separate individuals. They are now well past the nine-year change, and this project is ideal for such an experience. The students frequently stop their work to admire the work of their classmates.
The ten- and eleven-year-old children in fifth grade are uniquely situated in the time of their life where they are no longer young children but are not yet teenagers. They are turning the corner of childhood toward adolescence. Making a pair of socks is a metaphor for the developmental stage these students are in. They use their ever-increasing mental capabilities to follow the written directions for the socks they make. They are free to add cables, more complicated color patterns and the like to their socks. Due to the complexity of this project, fifth graders have handwork three times a week.
In sixth grade the students have one double class period once a week. At this time in a sixth grader’s development, s/he is experiencing many physical and emotional changes. Making dolls is an activity that unconsciously allows the children to become more at ease with these changes. As the children create the form of a human being for nine months and make hair and clothing for their dolls, they exhibit a growing fondness and respect for the doll they are creating and for the dolls their fellow classmates are creating. It is hoped that the children’s appreciation for human development is deepened by this experience. Sewing by hand, sculpting, determining proportions, and following directions are important aspects of doll making. They are skills that will be used and transformed as they continue to mature.
The seventh grader observes cause and effect on many different levels throughout the curriculum. Rudolf Steiner indicates that making a pair of leather shoes is one of the best activities for seventh-grade adolescents to experience. Focusing on making footwear brings consciousness to the direction that one takes in life. This is a valuable reason for making footwear in seventh grade. The cost of leather and the fact that children tend to grow out of their shoes quickly make cobbling an impractical activity. The students make slippers instead of shoes. Felted slippers or slippers out of wool suiting decorated with embroidery or beads have been made in the past. The embroidered slippers have a leather sole. The students follow written instructions for the construction of these slippers and design their own embellishments.
The eighth-grade history curriculum moves the children forward in the industrial revolution and then into current, modern-day history. The use of sewing machines fits perfectly into the eighth-grade curriculum. In handwork, the students begin by disassembling the hull of the sewing machine to observe the inner moving parts and oil them. Because the eighth graders spend many years together, they make a friendship quilt in handwork class. They pick out material to make nine-patch squares for each other and for their teacher. Then they assemble their own quilts using the patches given to them by their classmates. There is a quilt-signing party at the end of the year.