Knitting and other handwork projects play an important role in the development of fine motor skills, inner calm, and intellectual clarity. The specific handwork taught in Waldorf schools “grows with the growing child.” In the first grade, the curriculum calls for learning the basic knit stitch and creating a practical and useful project in a warm textile such as wool. In second and third grades, this is continued with purling and crochet, which add new movements and require more focus on each row and stitch. Around age nine or ten the children undergo a change of consciousness: they are individuals within themselves, no longer as open. The hats that the third graders knit to cover their heads represent this developmental milestone. Third graders are also experiencing the beginning of critical thinking, and in the knitting of hats they are introduced to small patterns, thus engaging their new thinking skills. The cross stitch taught in fourth grade reflects this more elaborate stage in their development.
The fifth grade advances to more complicated knitting. Knitting socks requires using four needles instead of just two, and it is a task that requires much perseverance, providing challenges and valuable lessons for the children.
Developmentally, the sixth graders are coming into form. The children sew animals, which requires planning, patterns, cutting, basting, and other skills for children who are now more intellectual in their planning and thinking. The sewing the children undertake in seventh and eighth grades requires extensive forethought and mathematical skills. In seventh grade they often sew dolls by hand, and in the eighth grade, sewing machines are used for various projects such as clothing and often massed production gifts for the lower grades.
Handwork offers many opportunities for reinforcing math skills in practical, challenging, and enjoyable ways.