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How Does Handwork Support Healthy Sensory Development?

Rudolf Steiner mentioned that handwork is gymnastics in miniature. He also spoke of the hands as the eyes of the rhythmic system. What did he mean by this? And how is handwork connected to the healthy development of the 12 senses?

Have you ever noticed a child whose knitting stitches are so tight they can barely get the needle under the stitch? Or perhaps another child whose stitches are so loose they look like great big open loops? Upon further observation, you may have noticed that the same child whose stitches are tightly bound also sits with tight shoulders and neck, or walks heavy and hard on the earth. Or you may have noticed that the child who knits so loosely has trouble balancing on the playground or coming to stillness in their seat.

The practice and development of fine motor skills in handwork can have a direct impact on the large motor skills of the whole body and vice versa. And further than that, the rhythm and balance of the body and the hands all play a part in the development of neural pathways in the brain that lead to learning, reading, problem solving, emotional well being, and more.

Of course with handwork we think of the sense of touch and the sense of sight. But handwork includes all of the 12 senses that Steiner outlined.

The four lower senses: the sense of touch; the sense of life or well-being; the sense of self-movement: and the sense of balance are often referred to as the bodily or physical senses, and they can be clearly observed in healthy movement. They connect us with our own selves and help us orient ourselves in space. A child running along a log, arms out for balance, placing their feet carefully and securely, jumping off the end and grinning with delight can give us an idea how these four lower senses can look.

This may be mirrored in miniature in handwork through the over and under of our running stitches, the rhythmic looping round and round of our knitting and crochet, or the delicate balance between left and right, up and down, forward and backward, as we strive to have both hands working together in a synchronous flow.