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Is The Waldorf Curriculum a Checklist?

2023 Conference Reflections: Closing words shared by Shellie Smith


This year’s February Handwork Conference was truly enlivening! Over the 3-day weekend of February 18-20, we explored many wonderful handwork projects from cultures around the world. And we received some profound advice for teachers from our keynote speakers. The theme of this conference was Exploration, Revolution and Handwork. We chose to focus on 7th and 8th grade.


In 7th grade especially, but really in any grade, there are so many options for what kinds of handwork projects to bring. We teachers must choose. But what do we choose? How do we choose? Why do we choose?

The Waldorf curriculum is not a checklist.


Are we choosing projects just because it is what we are "supposed" to to be teaching? It is up to us to take the time to know our students and understand child development so we can bring age-appropriate skills. It is up to us to take the time to know our local culture and our community so we can be place based and relevant. And it is up to us to look deeper to understand the horizontal curriculum of each grade so we can seek out the places where we can draw cross-curricular connections.

Betty Staley asked, what do 7th & 8th graders need from us?

Children at this stage of development are searching for role models. We must strive to be those role models. To model empathy, courage, self-discipline, and enthusiasm for life.

Kevin Avison spoke about Steiner’s recommendation that all teachers should strive to embody 4 attitudes: initiative, interest, uncompromising truth seeking, and remaining alive and fresh of soul so we do not become sour.

And they both talked about working out of the imagination, intuition, and inspiration. To be a leader and not a follower.

As Betty said on Saturday, we are not just teaching facts or skills to our students. We are developing capacities. Capacities for the unforeseen future.


In handwork we are developing so many valuable capacities, problem solving, critical thinking, patience and perseverance and we can bring so much more.

We explored pockets and special containers in many ways throughout the weekend. We can also think of our handwork classes like a container. It is a mixing bowl where the ingredients are child development, the materials, and the skills we teach. We can bring even more flavor to our work when we sprinkle in the spices that are the connections to what students are learning in geography, history, chemistry, physics, math, foreign language, and so much more. When we find those beautiful moments where it all comes together, we can give our students a learning experience that is so much deeper.

Our goal in bringing these multicultural handwork projects in this conference was to bring AUTHENTICITY to learning. As our 7th grade students are studying the Age of Exploration, or our 8th grade students are learning about world revolutions, we can bring this learning to life by providing an experience of these cultures and their history right in their own hands.


It is a deep integration of knowledge and understanding where our students can have the feeling that everything they are learning at school is harmonizing like a beautiful symphony. This is how it all makes sense. And this is an important capacity for the future. As they grow into adults and go out into the world, they may continue to seek this kind of integrated knowledge and understanding. Not just looking at one thing, or one aspect of a problem or situation with a sort of tunnel vision approach. But taking a wider view, looking at all the aspects and seeking the connections, the harmony, and finding that “it all makes sense” moment.

So how do we do all of this?

Well, coming back to Kevin's talk, first we must take initiative and interest – you all chose to spend your weekend here with us. Weekends are an important time for rest, but you chose to take this time to be here out of initiative and interest.

Together we are seeking the truth – doing the research, to learn and go deeper. When we are interested in a handwork project that comes from another culture, we can take the time to really learn about that culture. What are the roots? The cultural and historical significance of this craft?

Just as the Waldorf curriculum is not a checklist, this conference is NOT a checklist. We are certainly not suggesting that you go to school tomorrow and put all of these projects into action.


Maybe you will choose to bring some of these to your students. Maybe you will not. But we hope you have all had an experience of being a learner.


To be a teacher you have to be a learner. This is how we stay alive and fresh – not sour.

Circling back to Betty's advice, by learning new things we hope you feel empathy for your students and what it feels like to learn something new.


We have seen that you have the courage to try new things in your own life and your own learning.


You have the self-discipline to persevere and see that new project through to completion.


And we hope you may find delight in your own new skills giving you a renewed feeling of enthusiasm for life!


Thank you all for joining us on this journey.



We would like to send a special thank you to all our amazing guest teachers:


Keynote Speakers:

Betty Staley – Africa! And What do 7th & 8th Graders Need from Us?

Kevin Avison - Enterprising, Interested, Truthful: purging stagnation!

Clarissa Esguerra – Revolutions in Your Pockets


Special Guest Handwork Teachers

Camille McHaffie – Pocket Explorations

Yoriko Yamamoto – Japanese Origata

Patty Urda – African Mud Cloth

Naoko Bishop – Pine Needle Basketry

Theodora Mason – Yoga for Teachers


We have been so inspired in this conference by connecting handwork to history and geography. We plan to take it to the next level in July 2023 as we host the first ever conference for ALL Waldorf special subject teachers!


Join together with subject teachers from around the world to bring your teaching to the next level.


Learn innovative ways to connect with your colleagues to better meet the needs of the children in your care.


Sharpen your ability to observe children without judgment, share with other teachers, and integrate your insights into your teaching.


Join us online July 17-20, 2023. Save the date & spread the word with your colleagues. We hope to see you all there! Click the link below to learn more.



















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