Handwork: Working with, and through, the nine-year-change

Kate Camilletti teaches both handwork and woodwork to all of the grades classes at Orchard Valley. In this conversation, we focused on handwork in class 3/4, which naturally led to an exploration of the developmental stage inherent in this age group and how the handwork curriculum aligns with and supports the main lesson curriculum for this combined class.

Waldorf teachers speak of the nine-year change as the shift from the dreaminess of early childhood to a greater sense of the world around them. For some children, this shift in consciousness can bring up worries and anxieties, and behavior changes as a result. The Waldorf curriculum seeks to address this through stories and mythology, as well as the teaching of practical work that helps to instill confidence within the child through learning how to “do”—such as how to grow food, how to build, and how to make a hat.

“When students have regular access to working with their hands, the students are made ready for all that’s coming to them,” says Handwork Teacher Kate Camilletti. “It prepares the ground [for their education] and awakens the will.”

Handwork strengthens every part of the child—thinking, feeling, and willing, Kate says. We have to use our will to do the work, we have to think or we’ll make mistakes, and we feel the frustration as well as the enthusiasm that comes with working through the challenges and struggles inherent in learning something new.

The nine-year change marks the crossing of a developmental threshold, a moving out into the world, and it plays out in the student’s handwork, too.

For instance, the seven- or eight-year-old child is emerged in the rhythm of the movement of knitting. The experience could be akin to the dreamy, non-thinking way we swing on a swing, or jump rope, or bounce a ball, or walk, Kate says. But older children are more aware of what their hands are doing and have the capacity to ask more of themselves and their work.

In class 3/4 this year, the students began with crocheting. Crocheting uses one needle, held in the dominant hand, while the second hand has a specific job, too. After two years of knitting, it asks something new from the hands and the brain, and from the child’s will forces.

In keeping with the curriculum, the class worked with cotton to create items with “domestic practicality”—a potholder and a string bag for a water bottle. The potholder was their first project, something Kate says is a lot like building a house as it’s “built” stitch by stitch, which resemble bricks. Then their work turned back to wool and the creation of practical objects for the body—the hat project mentioned earlier, for example.

Kate shares that handwork offers the opportunity to really meet the child individually. Crocheting isn’t for every child, she said, so sometimes the project becomes something different for different children. There is that “magic moment,” Kate says, “when we find a way, when the child realizes they can succeed in their work. We always find a way.”

Knowing beauty and being able to produce something beautiful, the sense of accomplishment the children gain, and the knowledge that they can “do” are an inherent part of the Waldorf curriculum throughout the grades. The handwork curriculum reinforces and expands on this in a practical, tactile way, incorporating the brain-building value of working with the hands in pursuit of beauty.