Working With the Hands: Technique and Beauty Marry Handwork and Woodworking

Fiber, both soft (wool, thread, cloth) and hard (wood), play active roles in the Orchard Valley curriculum. And this year Kate Camilletti, long-time Handwork assistant now in her third year as lead teacher, will cultivate the connection between these types of fibers as she takes on the additional role of Woodworking teacher for grades 2/3 and 4/5.

Kate will be taking over the younger grades classes from Heinz Rathman, who has taught Woodworking for more than 30 years, and started at Orchard Valley during the 2011-2012 school year. Heinz is stepping back from teaching as he moves toward retirement, but he will continue to teach 6-week Woodworking blocks to grades 6/7 and 8 in the fall and spring this year, as well as work with the children in the Early Education program on the East Montpelier campus. Heinz created the Woodworking program at Orchard Valley and mentored Kate when she was his assistant several years ago. We’re so grateful for all he has brought to the students here, and that he’ll continue to work with the older grades during his transition.

A Look at How the Curriculum Unfolds

Each grades class has Handwork two periods each week. Grade 2/3 also has Woodworking once each week for one period, while Grade 4/5 has Woodworking once each week for a double period. "It is unusual for this age to take up woodworking in the Waldorf curriculum," Kate says. "This work typically begins in grade 5." To address the younger ages and maintain safety, the younger grades don't work with knives. Instead, rasps are used, and handsaws will come into use later. Rasps are tools that shape wood, and can be used to add detail (such as the hook at the end of a crochet needle or a deep cut into a straight edge) while being safe for all.

Classes have already jumped into both woodworking and handwork. All classes begin the year spinning wool—grade 1 using their bodies, and the older students make a drop spindle with a rock and a stick. In woodworking, grade 2/3 has begun making crochet hooks from apple branches which they will use later on in the year when they add crocheting to their handwork repertoire. Kate says the students "are having fun engaging with the material. They're loving it!"

Grade 4/5 has begun their first project as well--rasping an egg or a spinning top from a length of wood. Transforming something with straight sides into something round... "there's a journey you take when you do that," Kate says. "It's quiet work, internal work.”

Through handwork and woodwork, students "learn about finding their own edge and expanding beyond it." Technique is important with each, but so is having a sense of what is beautiful. And Kate works with the children on that, too.

While the projects don’t change much from year to year, the students doing the work change it. It becomes something slightly different because of what they each bring to the work. Kate is excited to take this journey with the students and see what comes. "I look forward to learning along with them," she said.