In Montessori environments, we pride ourselves on having a culture of self-lead work. We inspire children to be mathematicians, writers, discoverers and researchers. We also teach children the value of the ability to work with our hands.
How to Create a Culture of Handwork in Your Montessori Environment
By Carol Palmer
Handwork, the creative, constructive work of the hands, has been the binding thread of human culture since the beginning of civilisation. Building Handwork into the culture of your class or home school will not only provide the children with opportunities to explore and create, it will give them control of their environment. They will come to think of themselves as makers rather than consumers.
Have a look here for a detailed explanation of why Handwork should be included in all education and why it is so intrinsically tied with the Montessori philosophy.
Below are some strategies to help create a culture of Handwork in your Montessori environment.
Not just in lessons where you are showing children how to do it for the first time – model it all the time. Start a knitting project of your own and carry it with you. When you are waiting for that stray child to find their pencil before you can begin a lesson, knit a couple of rows, or show the children the latest pattern you have chosen. Show them your excitement when you finish a piece and can finally wear it, or gift it to a loved one.
Create Times Where Handwork is the Norm
This does not mean these should be the only times when handwork takes place, but they are good times to fit it in, especially for those children who would like to be doing it ALL the time!
I read aloud to my class at regular times each week, a few minute before I begin, I let the children know that it will soon be time for read-aloud and that they should set themselves up with whatever they need. The children then take out their Handwork or sketch books or simply make themselves comfortable. They know they are not allowed to move about whilst I’m reading so they have developed the habit of thinking through what they will need for their craft for the next 20-30 minutes.
We have Community Meeting every Friday afternoon and this is another time when children are encouraged to bring their Handwork and work quietly on it during the sessions. We don’t discuss it, or allow it to become a distraction, but it is a lovely way of allow children to notice what others are working on.
Prepare the Environment
For a full post on preparing your environment for Handwork, go here. As with every other area of the Montessori environment, you want your Handwork shelf to be so enticing that the children just can’t wait to get their hands on the materials.
Make Things Your Community Needs
Try to develop a habit of making whatever you can rather than buying. The more handmade items the children see around the class, the more they expect to make.
Our children all sew their own ‘ditty bags’ to hold their plate, bowl and cutlery when they go on school camp. We are in the process of sewing cloth napkins for community lunch. We knit cotton dishcloths for the kitchen.
When we didn’t have a long enough mat to lay out the bead chains we worked together to weave one. I even knew one teacher who crocheted little covers for the feet of every chair to prevent them scraping on the classroom floor!
Have Communal Projects
If you have children in your class who aren’t ready to commit to a whole project of their own, you could have a basket with shared work for whichever local group needs contributions.
A lovely way to begin a tradition like this is to tell the Story of the Peggy Square in which the children of New Zealand all worked together to contribute a small share towards something much greater.
Celebrate Handwork Heroes
Elementary children love heroes. They love to admire others and have role models to aspire to. Visit local quilting shows, tell stories of people who have changed the course of handwork history, study the inventor of the mechanised loom or the cotton gin.
Don’t forget the weird and the wonderful – there was a sheep in New Zealand who escaped shearing for six years and became a national hero. The world’s largest patchwork quilt measures 270,174 square feet!
Link Handwork to the Curriculum
Whenever you have given a presentation and you are discussing follow up ideas with the children, make sure some of the suggestions involve Handwork.
Children in my class became fascinated with the Fibonacci sequence and the golden spiral so they used it as the basis of their embroidery patterns. Others wanted to make their own version of the charts from the First Great lesson so they needle felted them onto fabric.
If you keep Handwork at the forefront of your mind, the children will too. For more ideas on how to link handwork across the curriculum, have a look here.
Once you develop a culture of Handwork in your learning environment, you will not need to give all of the lessons yourselves, just sow a few seeds amongst the children you think will be most excited by something and they will do the rest for you.
My students have a genuine sense of pride in their ability to create high quality, handmade items for themselves and others. They know that this is a special gift, and I know it is one that will remain with many of them for the rest of their lives.
About Carol Palmer
Carol Palmer teaches a 9-12 class at Wa Ora Montessori School in New Zealand as well as being an enthusiastic craftsperson , wife, and mother of two children. She is obsessed with passionate about the teaching of Handwork as an essential and integrated part of Montessori education, and dedicated to supporting teachers and home-educators to include more Handwork in their teaching practice.
When she completed her AMI 6 -12 Diploma in 2015, she felt so strongly that a Handwork Album was the missing piece in the Montessori puzzle that she set out to write it. Since then, she has been working with Montessori teachers from all over the world to create the first section of a Handwork Album – The Work of Wool. This Album is now in the final stages of production and will be available later this year It contains theoretical notes for the teacher, lessons, histories, stories, cross-curricular links and suggested follow-up work for all the major areas of crafting with wool.