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Officially, it is school holidays in our home for all of the month of December. Unofficially, there is still a lot of learning happening. Just try and stop a child from learning! It’s not possible. We’re all about books, Christmas movies, board games, beach trips…and very naturally, December also becomes an informal handwork block.
For those not in the know, we follow a holistic model in our homeschool, based largely on the Steiner/Waldorf education approach. This means we do the majority of our formal learning in what is called a ‘Main Lesson Block’ (You can read more about main lesson blocks here). So a handwork block simply means the majority of our learning happens through making beautiful and useful things.
Because it’s summer holidays here, this block is really informal. If we want to spend the day watching Christmas movies, we do. If we want to spend it splashing in the pool, bring it on! This block isn’t about sit down learning for us, it’s about the spreading Magic and Joy of Christmas. The learning that happens is all incidental.
Early on in the month I sat down and wrote myself out a list of things we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to hand make gifts and decorations for our home, cook yummy Christmas treats, and learn some Christmas songs. I then simply divided these jobs up into one or so a day, then spread them out over the course of the month. You probably already do this in your home without even thinking about it.
Like all blocks, even a handwork block aims to educate the whole child, although handwork is particularly suited to developing the will in a child. It takes willpower to conceive of project, learn the skills required and to stick with it to the end, even if it’s difficult. This is one of the key reasons so much handwork is included in the Steiner/Waldorf curriculum.
This month Nikolai has learnt new skills and continued to work on developing existing skills. I am very fortunate that the Family Daycare Program he attends each week also has a heavy focus on art and craft. Together with his friends he has tie-dyed cloths and t-shirts to give as gifts, made Sculpy models (which have already found their way into our fairy garden), baked gingerbread and filled jars with homemade peppermint cream chocolates.
At home we have been very busy with our Christmas decorations, working on finger knitting, painting to make Christmas cards and creating homemade stamps for our wrapping paper. This coming week we also have our Summer Solstice celebration so will be weaving god’s eyes, rolling candles, baking sun bread and folding window stars in sunshine colours.
So what makes this any different than a regular ol’ Christmas to-do list? It’s the intention behind it. Handwork is not the busy work of craft. It is beautiful and purposeful. On a spiritual level, Christmas handcraft is a way of embracing the underlying spirituality of the season; the selflessness of giving, the act of community participation, embracing the magic of childhood. Children can feel this intention in the work you give them to do.
We also give children handwork to help awaken their creativity and to give them skills they will be able to utilise later in life. We can spend all of childhood teaching our children to knit and crochet, to carve and to sculpt, and they may never use these particular skills as an adult. What they will use is the creativity we have nourished in them.
Teaching handwork to a child is about so much more than the craft itself. In the present, teaching knitting helps with patterning, crossing the midline, fine motor skills, executive functioning in deciding how to construct their piece. Knitting helps handwriting! Looking forward, teaching handcrafts gives the child a sense of being able to take care of the practical side of life. Think for a minute on the confidence and sense of security this is instilling!
It’s also a great way to teach children where the ‘things’ in our life really come from. Not the lifeless, throwaway plastic versions, but the real deal. Toys made of wood and wool, candles made of beeswax, food cooked in a kitchen. They can understand and value the work involved in producing those everyday items we so often take for granted. And there is so much life in what we make from hand!
And so we are busy busy making and creating. Nikolai is so excited to give his handmade gifts, and so am I. Handwork’s not just for kids 😉
What does December look like in your home?