Everyone admires the results of Camphill Special School’s handwork curriculum: student woodworking, weaving, and felting projects always are hugely popular items at our ProAm Gala silent auction. But why is handwork, and particularly knitting, an important part of a Camphill education?
Eugene Schwartz is a Fellow of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education and an international education consultant. He writes that “recent neurological research tends to confirm that mobility and dexterity in the fine motor muscles, especially in the hand, may stimulate cellular development in the brain, and so strengthen the physical foundation of thinking.” Appropriately, in Waldorf schools around the world, knitting is linked to children’s developmental stages and integrated with the remainder of the curriculum. The same is true at Camphill Special School!
Here is Mr. Schwartz again, writing about what happens when a child knits: Needles are held in both hands, with each hand assigned its respective activity. Laterality is immediately established, as well as the eye’s control over the hand. From the outset, the child is asserting a degree of control over his will . . . the power of concentration is awakened. . . this training in concentration helps, to use a phrase of the teacher Dennis Klocek, to ‘teach the will to think.’
Of course, the bigger picture is that at Waldorf schools, including Camphill Special School, children are familiar with the sight, sound, and feel of a sheep before they ever are acquainted with yarn. Students visit sheep in the field, touch the soiled and oily wool, witness the shearing, help to wash and card the shorn wool, watch it being spun into yarn, and, finally, are ready developmentally to learn how to knit.
In a Waldorf school one teaches out of the whole and then moves gradually to the part. In this way one starts a handwork lesson with the magic of a single continuous thread that can be looped, row by row through knitting, into a hat or a scarf. As the years progress, the process becomes more complex until, finally, in eighth grade, students cut fabric into pieces. Using a sewing machine, the pieces are put together like a puzzle and a finished garment – a shirt or a skirt! – is created. All the while, the process accompanies the child’s developing thinking capacities. As Rudolf Steiner stated, “Thinking is cosmic knitting.”