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Why do we teach children to spin?

Spinning in 3rd grade is at the very heart of Waldorf Education. It epitomizes the overall ‘gesture’ of what we strive to do as teachers: seeing the human being as a meeting place between the natural world and human ingenuity and inspiration – requiring persistent hard work! Spinning transforms a natural material – usually wool – from handfuls of fluff into a strong serviceable material which can be used for clothing or other practical purposes. Other materials, using a similar process, can be made into cordage or ropes.

Children in 3rd grade are learning to stand on their own feet and achieve a sense of competence in all manner of practical facets of life - time, measurement, growing and (usually cooking) food, shelter building, and clothing. Familiarity and understanding natural fibers is a first step towards being able to make clothing which both protects our bodies from the elements and also allows us a vehicle for non-verbal self-expression.

At the same time, from first through third grade, children have been knitting and crocheting practical and playful items using just one uninterrupted strand of yarn, forming and sewing their work into many different finished forms. Spinning familiarizes them with the process of making the yarn they have been using. This pattern is a hallmark of Waldorf Education – experience, then reflection, leading to understanding, always in an age-appropriate way.

Spinning requires skill and persistence. In handwork classes, children learn a great deal in a tangible, visible way that will support them in other areas of life. I usually tell my students (adults and children) that learning to spin is like much in life: a One, Two, Three process.

Stage One is “This is really fun, I can’t wait to do it”

Stage Two is “I’m so frustrated, I never want to touch it again”

Stage Three is perseverance (and resilience), if you keep working at it, it will all turn out well.

Spinning requires patience, resilience, perseverance, the ability to postpone gratification (it can take a long time to spin enough yarn to serve a practical purpose), willingness to overcome frustration, to try again, and again. These lessons serve each child well on their journey through schooling and adulthood, without any words or admonitions needing to be spoken. At the same time, children participate in an age-old technology, practiced for countless millennia in every culture around the world, and spinning the thread of human ingenuity forward into the future.

This article is an excerpt from the Waldorf Handwork Educators 3rd Grade Handwork Curriculum Guide. To learn more about our curriculum guides click here:

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