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Why is Handwork So Important?


The process of using these materials, the sensory pleasure of bathing in texture and color to create practical and beautiful items, is inspiring, and nourishes the heart and soul. Handwork gives students (and teachers!) a well-deserved sense of accomplishment and provides a valuable balance within the framework of education, whether in a conventional classroom or at home. Handwork is a valuable complement to academics. During the rhythm of the day, a period of attentive focus on individual handwork can contribute to a ‘breathing’ rhythm – part of the pendulum swing between academics and practical work, receptive and active learning. At every stage of life, working with your hands provides significant stress relief.

Practical arts provide us with a unique experience: in making something from the simplest of natural raw materials, we develop a powerful sense of agency; we and the children implicitly transcend the mundane and step into a deeper relationship with the world around us.

Creative activity mediates between seen and unseen realms: something from individual imagination or inspiration is brought from immaterial realms into physical reality, and something from the material world is transformed through being “worked” in order to approach the craftsperson’s intended goal. In a corresponding and reciprocal way, transforming the material also transforms and schools the craftsperson. Most obviously, hands are at work, but students consider and plan their project, learning to think in 3 dimensions (then 4 dimensions in High School craftwork). Through striving for beauty in form and color, students develop a heart-felt relationship with what they are making, especially if the fruits of their labors are beautiful, truly functional, and perhaps given as a gift.

Handwork supports the foundations for academic skills: two hands working together teams together the two sides of the body and the two hemispheres of the brain. This establishes and strengthens all–important new perceptive and cognitive connections; smooth eye-tracking and visual pattern recognition are fostered; eye-hand co-ordination and fine finger movement are developed. Focus and concentration are required, as are perseverance, planning, and attention to detail.

It has been well documented since at least the mid to late 20th century that fine finger dexterity builds brain synapses and fosters cognitive development. Working with your hands also means the world is literally no longer held at arm’s length; handwork requires a close engagement with natural materials, differentiating between wool and cotton, for example. Sharpening observational skills and perception, the sense of immediate and intimate belonging is cultivated and fostered. Handwork imparts a powerful, implicit message of interconnectedness and interdependence with the environment.