Heart, head, and hands: woodworking in

our Waldorf curriculum

By Carlton Noll

Aside from making sawdust, we do many things in woodworking at Camphill Special School. Our woodworking curriculum begins in the third grade when the children are ready developmentally to begin… by making a house! The process of creating a dwelling place ostensibly results in a safe and nurturing space in which to play, work, and live. But even more, engaging in a house building project fosters a sense of belonging.

By working cooperatively with others, a child gains a sense of belonging to a community; by building a ‘play house’ she creates a place she can call her own, a place where she feels she belongs. By working outdoors in nature a child becomes more ‘rooted’ in the natural environment, leading to a feeling of belonging here on earth. Working together with others, becoming rooted in the natural environment, creating her own space that she can return to and use for years to come - all of this helps to strengthen a feeling of  "I have a place here, I belong." 

Movement with purpose and meaning, along with the physical exertion involved in a focused activity like building a house, leads to a more integrated and ‘grounded’ state. Through activities in the project a child begins to experience herself (and others) differently. Movement, balance, constructive use of hands, arms, and legs, and involvement of the whole body helps to develop 'muscle memory.'

For example, as we progress in the work on our house the children naturally become more able to accurately and effectively wield a hammer. Movement integrates with sensory experiences such as hearing, listening to directions, conceptualizing, seeing, and developing hand-eye coordination. Thus a child better understands about how to work more effectively with her own body.

Physical activity improves capacities; it is invigorating and breathing deepens and becomes more rhythmic. The pulse quickens as the heart is engaged, and not just from physical exertion, for the heart also is engaged by working together with others in a spirit of cooperation toward a common goal. Every student connects with classmates through a positive, productive group experience.

For some of our students, third grade house building may be their first experience of focused physical work. Working with peers makes the work seem more familiar and it seems more like play. Tasks are made easier when we work together and our students learn something about the importance and fun of cooperative engagement.   

The finished house is a place to interact with friends, to exercise imaginations in creative play, and to continue developing social skills.  Throughout the building process and especially when the house is completed, students acquire senses of accomplishment and self-esteem.  This new found confidence is another step on the journey toward independence. It leads to self-motivated learning and a greater sense of well-being.

A child learns that as part of a team she can accomplish something which cannot be done alone. When the house is completed it represents something real and the child literally has had a hand in making something tangible which before only was imagined.