Head, Heart and Hands is a Waldorf concept regarding the rhythm of the day in that ‘head’ work is done in the morning, ‘heart’ work midday and ‘hand’ work in the afternoon. I approach each lesson with the ”head, heart and hands’ concept, as well as my whole year. Head work can refer to academics and mental exertion in which new learning related to skills is usually acquired versus new learning that is information driven (like history or stories). Heart learning, I define as the touching the emotions through stories. This is a great time to teach history through stories. Heart learning is rest period in the day following a midday meal. Afternoons are great for ‘hand’ work. This work can be knitting, felting, woodwork or in our case, the afternoons are great for our hands-on activities and projects.
How do I approach each lesson with the ‘head, heart and hands’ concept?
I view each lesson as benefiting from an academic component, a hands-on component and a story element. Often, if I don’t have time to pre-read a lesson and deliver it orally, I read from a book. In every lesson there is some narration and it’s usually a written narration, so that is the ‘academic’ component. We aim to draw or do a hands-on activity as well. A lesson doesn’t have to take place in one day, a lesson could span multiple days and have many parts.
How do I approach our day with the ‘heads, heart and hands’ concept?
We do our head learning in the morning. This would be proficiency work in grammar, writing and math. Any other daily assignment goes in the morning as well (that would be our short lessons that usually span a year or at least a season), our read aloud follows lunch as does part of our main lesson which involves reading or storytelling, drawing the main lesson can go here too. Hand work or hands-on projects are saved for the afternoon. This is always the goal, but there are exceptions, of course.
How do I approach our year with the ‘heads, heart and hands’ concept?
We do our academic rich and skill based learning like math and grammar in the fall (though there always seems to be one straggling science unit we are doing in August or September that was left behind from the previous year), we do our history units in the winter and our science units in the spring.
Child development in Waldorf
Child development in the Waldorf philosophy is divided into different groups with the first stage being roughly from birth to age seven. While there are smaller stages within this stage, this stage is usually characterized by movement and imitation. Although we are always learning using auditory, visual and kinesthetic modes of learning, there is a concentration of kinesthetic learning in the younger years. Young children learning through movement, touching, climbing, and exploration. The other modes of learning are overshadowed in this stage. This is different than being a kinesthetic learner. You may be a kinesthetic learner, so even later in life, that will be your preferred mode of learning, but all children pass through a phase of kinesthetic learning and that’s from birth to age seven (roughly). This is also the age of imitation. Young children will imitate others in this stage. It’s how they learn. Be mindful of your behavior around children because they will copy you in all you do both good and bad. This is a good reminder to reflect on our own behaviors and actions. When children clean, they are copying you, they don’t want to clean by themselves, rather they want to do what you are doing when you are doing it. This is not an opportunity to set your children to chores, rather it’s an opportunity to slow down your chores to include your children. Invite them to cook as well if you feel comfortable.
The following seven years is dedicated to the emotional development, again we are always developing, but between seven and 14, there is a concentration of the emotions and a greater sense of self awareness. The ‘nine year’ change is during this period and it can be a hard transition for children. It’s a time when children realize they have a past and a future. It’s often when children decide what they want to be (not career, but kind of person: smart, funny, loving, etc.). It’s a time of anxiety and discovery and finding oneself. The Waldorf philosophy recognizes this and the curriculum reflects the changes with lessons on the ‘Jewish Prophets’ and the stories of Moses and the Jews wandering the desert finding their home as well as lessons in building shelters. This provides relation and comfort for the child. There’s more to say on both these stages, but let’s move on to the last stage during the academic years (there are many stages a person goes through, but the ones in the younger years are formative and obvious).
The following seven years starting with puberty are a time for deep thinking, pondering and action. Young adults (I call them adults) starting at age 13 are concerned with change and justice. They tend to be impulsive, but capable of deep thought and critical thinking. This is a good time to have thought provoking discussions and given that the youth has learned much in his previous years of school and has developed his empathy though stories, he can enjoy the satisfying discourse of conversations deep with ‘why’ questions, analyzing the actions of historical figures as well as contemplating philosophy and all parts of the science that are unseen. This is my personal explanation of what can be discussed during this time, but there is far more that a youth is capable of. Don’t forget that we are always learning and acquiring information, so alongside deeper discussion, there is still an acquisition of information. But now, the reality of history and the present set it, the horrors and injustices can be exposed whereas previously the teacher chose carefully what stories and information to share to be sensitive to the developing child.
I freely admit that my experience, knowledge and biases have made their way into my explanation of the different developmental stages. Please feel free to leave your comments and opinions below.