A Center Focus: Blackboard drawings

Visitors to our school always comment on the blackboard drawings. They often ask, “Who DID this?!” in wonderment at the beauty and skill expressed in each classroom. They often may puzzle at the reason behind such a practice. In this day and age of white boards and smart boards, aren’t old-fashioned chalkboards outdated? How do the images contribute to an academic program—let alone the time needed to create them? Don’t the teachers have enough to do? 

Blackboard drawings are indeed a feature in all Waldorf ® schools, and their profound pedagogical purpose is even more crucial in the education of students with special learning needs. 

Ironically, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, wrote nothing about blackboard drawings. The practice has grown out of nearly a century of the development of an education which seeks to meet the ever-changing needs of the student through the grades. Steiner did, however, advise that the mood in the classroom was of utmost importance. The atmosphere in the room must support the unfolding of beauty and goodness and truth in the experience of the child. Surrounding the student in a welcoming environment of order and beauty helps to create this. Blackboard drawings are important in the creation of a harmonious mood. 

The drawings usually depict an aspect of the main lesson story, which carries one theme for three or four weeks. Sometimes the picture reflects the season and the changes in nature. For students who struggle with receptive language skills these visual reminders of the content help to ground and orient the child. The styles of the drawings also have a pedagogical intent. The soft images of a firstgrade fairy tale change through the meticulous illustrations of a seventh-grade science experiment or a political map of the world in a high school history lesson: a natural progression in cognition and consciousness. 

A beautiful blackboard drawing provides a center of focus, supporting attention. A teacher may change the image through the weeks or draw on the board during the main lesson to help engage the students. This reflects another central principle of Curative Education: the relationship between the teacher and the student. It is certainly true that the creation of these drawings requires a substantial commitment of time and ongoing development of technical skill and creativity. The teacher offers this freely as a gift to the class—despite occasional desperation on a Sunday afternoon when the drawing just won’t come right and the teacher erases the board one more time and starts again! 

Blackboard drawing is taught as part of Camphill Academy’s third-year course work when the Academy students prepare for the student-teaching practicum. When the blackboard is filled with glowing color and the image helps carry the theme, the classroom seems ready. Perhaps it provides as much security for the student teacher as it does for the children. 

Our arts-integrated approach is clearly expressed in the beauty of each classroom’s blackboard. Make sure you get a chance to take a look the next time you visit. Who does them? Our teachers do, in one more way to bring a healing education to our students.