The Relevence of Handwork and Craft

Our Parenting Craft Circle meets every Monday in teacher Leigh’s classroom from 12.30 – 2pm.  This inspired group is already working towards the Spring Fair later this year. All parents are welcome to join.









What is the role of hand and craft work in the unfolding of human and social development? This long, rhythmic process of development continues from early childhood into adulthood and on throughout life – a human being is in fact never complete, finished, as it were, with his or her development. A human being is continuously in the process of becoming. When and where such an attitude survives, is cultivated by parents as regards their children, teachers in respect of their classes and amongst adults generally in relationships with each other in daily life and work, only then, I believe, can there be a fertile foundation for the potential creativity in each individual.

In whichever area we work, there are certain intentions, attitudes to our work that can be shared, including an appreciation of each other. For those of us involved in handwork, craft or manual skills education, whatever the age of the pupil, student or trainee, we share in and bear witness to an area of activity that is uniquely human, namely that creativity of the human spirit which is carried out by our hand, perhaps the one organ that most differentiates us from all of the animal world.

In the animal realm there are of course numerous examples of fine and, to us, unobtainable achievements. Take for example a spider’s web or a bee’s honeycomb. These animals, however, all work within certain fixed parameters and the bee can only do what a bee can do. A human being, on the other hand, is not created to be fixed, patterned to a certain existence, stereo-typed in his or her movements. The body and hands are meant to be the instrument for the human spirit that seeks expression within the body and beyond it into the material world as revelation of itself.

When making a candle, for instance, taking the raw materials provided by nature, in this case beeswax and the cotton for the wick, we start a host of creative processes that culminate in the single act of lighting the candle. What was previously held within the raw materials is released, through human activity in creativity, in the light and warmth of the burning candle. Such an image, I hope, helps serve to show the purpose of a human being’s creative power. There should moreover be no boundaries in a human being’s creativity, for unlike the instinct of the bee out of which a honeycomb is built, human actions are not meant to be actions in response to given situations but free actions that transcend the limitations imposed on the animal, actions that serve the well-being of one’s neighbor.

Rudolf Steiner, when speaking of handwork in the school curriculum, said the purpose was not to train weavers, potters, etc., but rather for the pupil, by practicing such work, to be able to stand more secure on leaving school, with a basic confidence for managing the practical affairs of life. This works inwards, as it were, weaving an inner multi-coloured garment whose colours will not fade or threads snap and unravel at the first hurdle presented by life.

Today, with technological achievements providing for our every need, practical involvement with the material world has all but terminated. There are now diminished opportunities in life for children and adults to be creative in their play or work. Not only do we forgo the joy and sense of achievement that making something can give us, but without the possibility to be creative there is limited or minimal access to the essential formative powers handwork can foster in the growing child and adult.

Published in the Journal of the Early Childhood Assn, by Bernard Graves