We are so pleased to have Patty Urda, handwork teacher at the Detroit Waldorf School, share her “Safety Pin Syllabus” for handwork grades 1-4.
Families and faculty alike depend on well-made, secure, safety pins from the handwork teacher. Who hasn’t been asked for one from September to June; for Michaelmas, the Halloween costume parade, enchanted walks, assemblies, class plays, ceremonies, or graduation? It’s often up to us to make sure that things are held together, that students make it from one place to the next while looking their best.
A few weeks back, we used dozens of safety pins for our Michaelmas dragon. Our school’s dragon costume is a collection of green bed sheets pinned together to disguise a line of older students and accommodate their festive antics. Somewhere along the dragon’s route or while changing, safety pins went missing or perhaps malfunctioned and fell out.
I ordered safety pins for the next eighth grade teacher and wondered why we couldn’t be more sustainable. I’ve learned not to buy the cheap pins because they’re flimsy and made with inexpensive blends of metals. Important things often ride on a single safety pin.
The common safety pin is perfect for Steiner’s recommended single object meditation. Before sitting still and closing your eyes, do some research. Investigate its history and manufacture, create an inner picture of its many uses from cradle to grave, and wonder what life would be like without it.
Remember that some students have never seen a safety pin, and even fewer know how or when to use one. You can observe many things while children use their hands to manipulate safety pins, and these observations can be helpful later when knitting begins. Here’s my current syllabus for using safety pins in Handwork, grades 1-4:
Everybody gets a safety pin attached to the inside of their handwork bag. It’s a useful bonus for large classes. If there’s a dropped stitch, the teacher can use a pin to save it, and correct the mistake after class. Later in the year, the teacher (or the handwork fairy) can pin a tiny note to the outside of the handwork bag; a note of praise, encouragement, or a gentle reminder to do a step.
Students practice opening and closing the pin in the first month of school. We have a really big pin (from a Giant, of course) for demonstrating in front of the class. It takes strong hands to open and close the giant-sized pin. First graders use their pinch fingers (bird beak) to open and close their little pins. They are supported in the task, and advised to work with care. Look how the sharp point comes out of the little cave when it’s opened. Look how the sharp point hides in the cave when it’s closed. It takes a tiny movement of the finger or thumb to make it work just right.
A safety pin can lead the way for a finger knitted cord to scoot through the tunnel of a handwork bag. Break it down into steps for little hands: open the pin, push it through the end of the cord, close the pin. Now hold the back end of the pin, push the fabric over the front end, and gently walk the pin forward through the tunnel. Repeat until the front of the cord peeks through the opening. The last step is to put the safety pin back inside the handwork bag. Poke the tip of the pin into the fabric and back out again, like a dolphin diving, then close it safely.
The safety pin, still attached to the inside of the handwork bag, accompanies the child to second grade. Now they can use it by themselves, to save a dropped stitch while waiting for help. I attach a second pin to the outside of the bag for holding little notes or drawings, which I update weekly, after correcting students’ work. Sometimes they don’t read the note, but it serves as a reminder for me when handwork bags are handed out.
Second graders may need additional practice with opening and closing safety pins. Create a space for this activity by keeping a square (or squares) of felt, covered with various sized pins, nearby. If you teach without an assistant, and students are not accustomed to waiting, they may need to do a helpful task (instead of disrupting the class). Other students may find the task calming as they transition from recess to handwork. The pins can be sorted by size, pinned together in a long chain, or removed during one period and replaced in the next. The work is satisfying and repeatable. It can help students to set goals, and it builds the will through perseverance.
Third grade students continue to work with pins as mentioned above, and new facets can be added. On festival and assembly days, or the last day (or period) before the break begins; anytime when energy is high, students can play games with safety pins. Rely on old favorites like “Find the Pin” (button, button, who’s got the button?) or “This is a cat! This is a dog!” (a communication game) for inspiration. Use your imagination for new ideas. Pin together scraps of fabric reaching from one end of the room to the other. Open and close safety pins with eyes shut, team relay style. Make temporary shelters, “crochet cabins” and “crochet cottages”, with bed sheets pinned together, draped over chairs and balanced on brooms. The possibilities are endless.
Fourth graders can use safety pins in a practical way. Have them piece together squares of fabric when beginning to learn cooperative quilt making. Also, they can attach their finished cross stitch to felt or fabric before sewing their pincushion or needle case.
Whatever you decide to do with safety pins in the early grades, run it by another teacher. Consider the purpose, the practice, and the desired outcome. Try it with young students, notice when and how they struggle, and devise ways to make it manageable for them. A verse, a song, a story, and a playful attitude can make learning how to use the safety pin a memorable experience for all ages.