Hands On Education: Working with Your Hands in the Classroom

HandsAs parents and teachers using Waldorf-inspired methods we learn about the importance of making sure there is a balance between the head, heart and hands* in daily education. Steiner teaches that this balance is essential to learning and that when a child is engaged and balanced on all three levels that their learning happens more efficiently, goes deeper and stays with them longer.

However, as children grow older or as we become adults we often forget this balance. We assume that since we are “all grown up now” that these rules of early childhood don’t apply to us anymore. However, establishing a balance with the head, heart and hands is just as important to teenagers and adults as it is to children.

Using this principle I am often able to overcome roadblocks in my own day. I find that if I balance these elements my day will usually go smoothly. However, if I spend too much time on one element I will feel “out of balance”, “lost”, “tired” or “unmotivated”. For example, if I spend too much time creating lesson plans (head work) I will reach a point where I can’t think clearly. No matter what I do the thoughts will not come to me or they will come like molasses pouring out of a jar on a cold day! However, if I balance this “head” work I find that I don’t encounter as many roadblocks. Some of the ways I do this include: working at a cafe around people, working while swinging on the porch swing, taking breaks to walk or do physical work, working with someone else and stopping to converse, or actually getting up to write out a lesson or become physically engaged in it somehow.

It may seem like a waste of time to write a lesson out on paper when it needs to be entered into the computer or to draw something for the lesson when my illustrator does a much better job, but sometimes the physical act of getting “hands” involved in the “head” work helps move things along. And it may seem inefficient to print out some of the papers I am working on when I can see them just fine on the computer but sometimes printing them and then physically using a pen to draw and chart and write out ideas on the papers is all the physical involvement I need to get the wheels turning again.

Another time I use this is when I am stuck moving forward with an idea or a project. I might spend days or hours thinking “what am I going to write?” or “how am I going to plan this out?” I might even feel stuck. Sometimes I don’t feel I can move forward until I know where I am going. However, this does not always work very well. What works better is to physically move and “do” the activity even if I don’t have it all planned out first. Just the act of getting physically involved with the thought helps the creative process.

For example, when I used to plan out schedules for my after-school Waldorf-enrichment programs I had an overwhelming task – pages and days of lessons with different ages of children needed to be planned. All the lessons were on the computer and it would look much “neater” to just type them all out from there but until I actually started writing down some charts and words – getting my “hands” involved – I could remain stuck for days. It was a simple act. All I did was get out a paper and a pen and make a chart and start writing things into the chart. But it made a profound difference in the work my “head” was doing.

Another thing I think we can all relate to is the feeling of just sitting there, thinking “oh my, what do I do next?” I can sit for a while with this thought. Sometimes the number of tasks seems overwhelming to the point where it seems easier just to stay sitting and avoid everything or it hard to choose where to start. Before I had children this sitting was a luxury I could afford but after my first baby I learned the simple trick of getting my “hands” involved. If I could just make that first physical step towards my destination, my “heart”, “head” and “hands” would start to cooperate. However, if I sat there thinking about it nothing would inspire me to move.

Another example where we may find imbalance with the “hands” is relationships. How many times do you find yourself saying “I love you” to your children, spouse, family member or other friend? How many times do you involve your “hands” in that by giving them a hug, too? It seems like a simple addition to the formula – just one hug, but the difference it makes, and the added power it gives the words, is amazing.

The older we get the more we tend to live in our “head” or even our “hearts” but if we can remember to balance it with our “hands” life can feel much more balanced and harmonious, processes can feel much easier, and our experiences can feel much deeper.

*The “head” includes thought processes, thinking, figuring things out, math homework, science lessons, philosophy and other similar activities. The “heart” includes inner work, silent time, enjoying a meal together, socializing in a pleasant way, spiritual stories, singing and other similar activities that engage the “heart” or spirit. “Hands” includes physical movement such as knitting, walking, planting seeds, baking bread, running, jumping, moving, Eurythmy and other similar activities.

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