Drawing and Painting
In a Waldorf school, all students study drawing, painting, and the rudiments of clay modeling. In grades one through six, visual arts are taught by the class teacher. Drawing is part of the main lesson, while painting is taught in a separate period, although the themes are generally taken from main lesson subjects. The finest materials are always used, including high-quality watercolor paper, beeswax crayons, and artist’s colored pencils. The overall purpose of the visual arts program is not only to teach students to draw and paint, but also to teach them how to observe carefully.
In the first three grades, the class teacher draws many pictures on the blackboard. The younger children copy these pictures using block crayons. In third grade, shading is introduced into the drawings, and block crayons begin to give way to more precise stick crayons. Color and gesture are emphasized, while stick figures and outlines are discouraged. Form drawing, a precursor of geometry, is taught in main lesson blocks, starting with simple straight and curved lines and moving on to mirror images and four-fold symmetry in second grade. Third graders practice continuously running forms in preparation for learning cursive writing. Students also learn watercolor painting. Using wet paper and large brushes, the young children first experience the quality of each primary color individually. Later, as they learn to blend two colors, secondary colors arise from the painting. By second grade, they begin to see forms in the colors, and in third grade they are able to develop these forms themselves. In addition, all children model small figures out of colored beeswax, first warming it in their hands, and then creating forms based on nature or on main lesson stories.
Handwork has been taught in Waldorf education since the first school in 1919. Handwork is a practical art that involves the senses of sight and touch as well as balance and movement. In doing handwork, fine motor skills are refined. The children learn respect for the process of making something and gaining confidence in their ability to complete a task.
Age appropriate projects are chosen for each grade. The children learn a variety of skills through the years, and foster a healthy respect for the natural materials that are used in the projects as well recognizing their own potential during the process. Special care is taken to design objects that are practical and functional and also allow the children to work with color in a creative way.
The children begin the year exploring wool fleece. They first form their fleece into a cloud and then gently spin their “cloud” into a piece of yarn that becomes a wool bracelet, necklace, or wiggly worm. This first experience with a natural fiber enlivens their senses of touch and smell and creates a reverence in the child for the gifts from nature. The children learn to finger knit a golden crown. They add gem-colored bits of wool fleece to their crown by felting with the gentle friction of their hands. The children gradually learn to cast on stitches and knit. Rhymes help make learning the stitches easy to remember. The first knitted project is a small cat. Once they have learned to knit, the children make a pair of knitting needles to take home and practice their knitting. Their main project is a recorder case. The children choose four colors of plant–dyed wool to make this project. They complete the project with a wet-felted button made from the remnants of yarn.
Second graders begin the year making knitted gnomes. With this project, the children learn to increase and decrease stitches as well as to purl. When all the gnomes are complete, “King Gnome” invites all the gnomes to a party to hear a story, play with their gnomes on a huge display, and finish with a treat. In the second half of the year, crocheting is introduced. This new skill focuses on the dexterity and coordination of their dominant hand. Their first project is a eurythmy slipper bag. Crocheting helps to strengthen their ability to make decisions, where to place their crochet hook, and when to add stitches. Some students will continue to make metrocard holders and potholders.
Third graders begin the year where they left off in second grade by crocheting. Their first project is a crocheted pouch; they learn many new stitches that prepare them for their main project, a crocheted hat. Working with their own design of color choices and stitch patterns is a challenging and rewarding experience for third graders. Sporting their uniquely made hat is truly a high light of their year. In the spring, the children return to knitting and making a horse. This project coincides with their class trip to the Hawthorne Valley Farm at the end of the year. The horse pattern is more complicated than their previous projects. This project enhances their ability to work in a structured, yet alert and focused way.