Through beauty, color and form and through the conscious use of their hands, handwork helps lead the children from play to imaginative thinking as adults.
The children learn practical skills through patience, concentration and perseverance, the use of tools and the appreciation of the materials that Mother Nature gives us. Handwork gives children a reverence for the world of nature and and a connection to their surroundings in this modern world.
GRADES 1-3: The children learn knitting and crocheting which are rhythmic, repetitive activities that use coordination of both hands, strengthening purposefulness and bringing clarity to their thinking. Projects include toys, items for the home, and clothing for the student.
GRADE 4: The children are more aware of the world. They work with sharp tools, mirror images and cross-stitch to make projects such as embroidered handwork bags and cross-stiched pincushions.
GRADE 5: The fifth grade is a more balanced time of development and is reflected in the knitting of two equal pieces (a pair of socks) and the development of conceptual thinking by knitting in the round and turning the heel.
GRADE 6: Handwork becomes more challenging in the sixth through eighth grades. The doll of the 6th grade is an outward projected image of themselves, as they enter the self-consciousness of preadolescence.
GRADE 7: The physically hard work of seventh grade felting meets the needs of the adolescent to push against things, and draws them out of themselves calling on their “will” forces. Unlike other handwork crafts, wet felting is physically demanding and helps direct that teenage energy.
GRADE 8: As the eighth grade curriculum studies the Industrial Revolution, the handwork turns to the use of the sewing machine, encouraging the adolescent to step out into the world. Eighth grade projects include napkins for the home and a buttoned shirt for the student.
Reflecting back on eight years of handwork, the children have learned so much. They have become skilled at knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery and cross-stich, using these skills to make dolls, toys, clothing and items for the home. They have learned different methods of felting. And most of all, they have learned to create items both beautiful and practical.
At Mountain Laurel School, the sculpture program encompasses both modeling and woodworking.
Modeling enlivens the academic subjects by bringing those experiences into reflection and expression through the hands. Research shows that engaging small motor skills helps to create neuro-pathways in the brain that support other learning centers in the brain. For a child, to actually form a pyramid out of clay challenges their spatial and motor capacities and creates a deeper understanding of the dynamics involved in such a structure.
From the early days in first grade, children are given colored beeswax to shape into figures or scenes from the stories they have heard. The teacher carefully guides them from simple shapes like snakes or butterflies into more complex human figures as their skills mature. By second grade, they are modeling animals or whole scenes from fables or nature stories. In third grade, they might make a farmyard with the farmer and all the animals.
Clay can be introduced in fourth grade if it has not already been used. Over the next few years, students can try animals, pyramids, sphinxes, clay tablets with cuneiform writing, Greek vases, relief maps and other projects related to the curriculum. Clay modeling is usually taught by the class teacher and by the sculpture teacher beginning in fourth grade. Giving shape to a soft formless material imparts strength and form to the will and awakens a feeling for how life takes shape.
Woodworking speaks to the needs of the human being as they are embodied in the living human form. Working with wood tremendously strengthens the will because wood is physically hard, and sharp tools and physical strength are needed to achieve a change in shape. The child has to work with a material that possesses a grain and has to match their will to that grain.
GRADE 1: Modeling begins by using beeswax in the first grade with the class teacher
GRADE 2: In second grade, the sculpture teacher, using beeswax and the process of metamorphosis, helps the children find and evoke the form-gestures that the children have visualized from the stories they have been told.
GRADE 3: Clay is introduced in the third grade as the story of the creation of the Earth and the human being as Adam is told. Using two hands together, simple, large archetypal forms (beginning with the sphere) are taken through a metamorphic series. The children find the archetypal double-bent form gesture in the sleeping Adam. During the second half of third grade, the children model different shelters in clay, from Noah’s Ark to a house of their own design. The use of clay helps ground the children as they begin to experience the loss and awakening embodied in the nine-year change.
GRADE 4: With the arising of greater self-consciousness in the fourth grade, the children touch on their first geometric form (the tetrahedron) and explore the changing range of gestures in the animal world. The animals are always formed through metamorphosis, out of the whole, which imparts a feeling for that wholeness. The children take up woodworking briefly at the end of fourth grade through found-wood and then again strongly in the second half of the fifth grade.
GRADE 5: The new found balance of the fifth grader is reflected and explored in the changing balance of the human form as seen in the ancient world, including the combination of the animal and human in the Sphinx. The balanced but dynamic form of the egg, fitting within within the human hand (the building gesture-form of nature), is shaped in hardwood.
GRADE 6: In the sixth through eighth grades, the children are coming to the foundation of their thinking, embodied well in the modeling of the metamorphosis of the Platonic solids. This project often begins these last years. In the sixth grade, cause and effect and strength and movement are worked with in modeling projects such as wrestlers or dancers and masks of comedy and tragedy, and other strong soul-gestures. They use a rasp and gouge to make a finely formed, large hardwood spoon that fits the hand well and serves a particular range of uses. They must carefully work with the distinction between the handle and the spoon-bowl and the transition between the two.
GRADE 7: Seventh graders, reflecting the study of the Renaissance, are ready to work artistically with what can be observed in the world. They observe and shape a model of the foot in movement, finding the arch (someplace that never touches the ground and allows for freedom of movement). This is taken further in eighth grade when students sculpt the hand. The needs of human beings in their human form (building on the spoon) are taken up in a hand carved bowl in hardwood.
GRADE 8: The culmination of the sculpture program at Mountain Laurel is the handmade stool. This last process employs measuring, geometry, engineering, ergonomics and the use of at least 15 different hand tools. It challenges the eighth grader’s newfound ability to take up thinking more consciously.