The Value of Form Drawing

The Value of Form Drawing

by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director, Early Childhood – Grade 8 and
by Catherine Dwyer | Class Teacher

Form drawing is a unique part of Waldorf Education. At Waldorf schools, students mainly practice form drawing from First grade through Fifth grade. As with most subjects, each year brings increasing complexity and new challenges to students’ spatial abilities, fine motor skills and focus, among other things. We can easily recognize how the act of form drawing lays a foundation for writing and drawing. More intriguing is that it also builds visual thinking, anticipatory thinking, spatial thinking, complex-solution thinking, and mathematical thinking.

So what is form drawing? Simply put, form drawing is the free-hand drawing of variations of the two universal forms – the straight line and the curved line, from which all forms are born – done through “repetitive drawing of symbols and shapes—both linear and lateral, zigzag or congruous knots. This freehand creation of patterns is more about process than product…” (“The Practical and Creative Art of Form Drawing” – Beverly Amico).

As a parent, the most important thing to know about form drawing is that last part: that form drawing is about the process, not the product. This process- how the drawing is done and not just how it looks in the end- is the “form” discussed in this Messenger article. Because it is this exercise of form drawing, like the exercise of any complex physical movement, that develops the brain and character of the student.

Often it is easier for us to see the value in that carefully controlled practice/form when it comes to teaching our child a physical skill, such as a rond de jambe in ballet. We patiently take our children to lessons where they practice a movement over and over until their body and brain are finally able to work fluidly together to create a perfect freestyle swim stroke or a beautifully executed hinge kick.

We forget that smaller movements, such as those of the hand, are also physical movements and that, as physical movements, they also require fluid communication between the brain, the eyes and the hand.

For form drawing, teachers often have the students walk the form, air-draw the form, or even draw the form with their foot on the floor, before they begin to draw the form on paper. During a form drawing exercise, teachers encourage students to draw continuously, without lifting and reorienting the pencil or paper. Students often want to move the paper around on their desk or start and stop a drawing to make it easier and to make it more “perfect.” They want to get the product- the final drawing- “right” as quickly and easily as possible.

This requirement to not move the paper or lift the crayon can seem arbitrary to parents, creating needless frustration for students- it makes getting the drawing “right” easier if you break the drawing into smaller parts or shift the paper around so that the brain has an easier time orienting itself to the image. So why would the teacher discourage the student from doing this?

This would be like a ballet teacher allowing your child to “perfect” their turns by simply walking around in a circle. Sure, they’ve turned 360 degrees, but that is not an actual ballet turn. A student walking their ballet turn hasn’t developed the muscle tone, coordination, balance and brain/body connections that are needed to execute an actual ballet turn. In short, they’ve been deprived of both the physical and mental growth that they would gain by carefully practicing the ballet turn over and over again until they can execute it as fluidly as possible. It may never be “perfect” but they will have gained those strong mental and physical abilities through the practice.

So what might it mean if your child wants to pick up or shift that piece of paper? What do they gain when a teacher does not allow them to “walk their ballet turn” by doing so? It could be a sign that they are struggling with crossing their midline. Crossing the midline is important because it shows that children (and adults) can use “both sides of their brain to coordinate smooth, controlled, complex movement.” (link) Children typically first start crossing their midline when they are 4-6 months old and master the skill when they are 8 or 9 years of age. For this reason, we expect that 1st and 2nd graders will struggle to keep their papers straight and thus have to cross their midline to draw the form. But as adults, we know they need this practice to support healthy brain development. Sometimes that practice, as with occupational therapy exercises, can be frustrating, but the process of doing the exercise- of sticking with the form in form drawing- is key.

When a child struggles to learn something challenging, reassure them that they will get better with practice. Remember that there are plenty of times during the day when they are allowed to start and stop a drawing or move their paper around their desk to avoid crossing that midline. But the form in form drawing is there for a purpose. It’s just another way that Waldorf Education supports the healthy brain development of the growing child.

Curious to know more about the role of form drawing in Waldorf curriculum? Keep reading!

As with everything in Waldorf Education, form drawing is multifunctional in its effects and has many educational benefits. As described by Angela Lord in her book Creative Form Drawing, “The true aim of education is not primarily to gather information for the sake of it, but to awaken genuine capacities of perception, judgment, creativity, and reliability in relation to life and living. Form drawing contributes in a meaningful way to healthy education.” She goes on to discuss that two important benefits of form drawing are integrating sensory experience and spatial awareness.

Form Drawing was brought to Waldorf schools by Rudolf Steiner, who worked with many groups of teachers in the early 1900’s. Steiner believed form drawing was an essential practice for education. “A kind of visual measuring through cognitive feeling is developed in the child by solving such form problems. By completing the other half of a form that the teacher has drawn on the board, the child can find his or her inner balance and a sense of natural harmony.

Rudolf Steiner said in the fourth chapter of The Kingdom of Childhood: ‘In this way [through form drawing] one educates the child toward a real feeling for form, toward a feeling for harmony, for symmetry, and toward a feeling of relationships. In this way one can guide the child into those harmonies which also exist in the world around us.’ And further on he says: ‘…the child will develop on the one hand more thoughtfulness in his observations and on the other hand more intuition in his thinking.’ One could say a kind of moral imagination is introduced through such exercises that insist on the virtue of veracity and visual truth.” (“Language of the Line: a Reinvented Art-form of the Waldorf Schools” – Van James)

Van James goes on to say, “Metamorphosis exercises [in form drawing] encourage a mobility of thinking when one follows a form through a process of development that can include inside-out and upside-down reversals. This is a very helpful preparation for the organic sciences (such as Class 5 botany) and bears a direct relationship to projective geometry. Again, flexibility in thinking is encouraged entirely through the pictorial.”

Form drawing in all its aspects is an amazing process to nurture and encourage a child’s full growth. The students find it fun to do and enjoy using the forms they learn in their own lesson work and throughout their day, such as in handwork or eurythmy.

Form drawing is another unique aspect of Waldorf education that enlivens a child’s expansion into their full potential.

WSP Students at Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum

WSP Students at Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum

by Kerstin Pintus | WSP Handwork Teacher

On September 10th, WSP students and I, their handwork teacher, participated in a Living History event “A Walk Through Time” at the Sunnyvale Heritage Park Museum.

Representing the “golden days” of the rancho period, 1833 through 1846 in California, WSP’s booth “Fun with Wool” was a great success. Under the enthusiastic and patient tutelage of WSP students in period costumes and myself, visitors learned through hands-on activities how a sheep fleece is processed into yarn. Guests had an opportunity to card wool, build spindles from rocks and sticks, and spin yarn.

Sunnyvale’s Vice Mayor, Alysa Cisneros, joined the fun with demonstrations using a spinning wheel.

Many thanks to Juli, Sahar, and Anne-Mare in sixth grade; Mascha in eighth grade, and Maia twelfth grade for their wonderful ambassadorship and representation of our school.

Note: Two WSP alumni parents, Katharina Woodman and Kim Thurgate are volunteers at the museum where Kim serves as event coordinator who planned this festival. When Kim was looking for an activity that would tell the story of the sheep pastures and wool processing, Katharina suggested Kerstin and her students, having witnessed them practicing wool processing in handwork class.

Why Do We Bake Bread in Early Childhood?

Why Do We Bake Bread in Early Childhood?

by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director Nursery School -Grade 8

What are the children doing when they bake bread in Early Childhood?

They are:

  • developing fine motor strength and control: kneading the dough and shaping the loaves strengthens the hand muscles and improves manual dexterity.
  • exploring with their senses: baking engages the senses of sight, touch, and smell. Working with the dough, children notice how the dough becomes smooth with kneading and how the stickiness and tension of the dough changes as they work with it. Later, after baking, they experience the taste of the fresh bread and how the application of heat transforms the uniform dough into a crunchy outer layer with a soft inside.
  • strengthening bilateral coordination: developing good bilateral coordination skills can help children to tie shoelaces, cut with scissors and draw a line with a ruler. Rolling balls of dough, and flattening dough with their hands allow children to develop their bilateral coordination skills.
  • developing attention and goal setting: baking bread requires care, patience, and a willingness to delay gratification. Children carefully follow and mimic the movements of their teacher, paying close attention to her words and movements. They need to wait for the delicious bread to bake before they can enjoy it.
  • developing an understanding of process and sequence: in class, children will grind wheat to make the flour. As they prepare the dough and knead it, they see that the process of baking bread has a beginning, middle, and end as it moves from wheat to dough to bread.
  • developing a sense of efficacy (“I can do it!”): young children need opportunities to do real, meaningful tasks. In baking bread, they make something delicious that they can enjoy and share. Baking and other “chores” contribute to children’s emotional development and self-assurance as they build confidence in their abilities and understand the meaning behind their work (we bake so we can eat bread; we clean so we can have a tidy classroom). It also encourages independence as children learn to take responsibility while following directions and solving problems.
  • developing a sense of community: we bake bread together as a class and then sit down together to enjoy it. During snack time, children and teachers share conversation and stories.

In the Waldorf curriculum, especially at the Nursery School and Kindergarten level, the emphasis is on the process, not the product. Worrying about achieving perfect, smooth loaves would defeat that purpose. The learning is through doing.

In the same way, over-explaining the purpose of an activity robs the young child of the chance to explore, discover, and observe on their own. It takes away some of the magic of discovery.

These are just some of the reasons we bake bread as part of the Early Childhood curriculum.

Coding in a Waldorf High School Humanities Class

Coding in a Waldorf High School Humanities Class

by Marina Budrys | High School Humanities Faculty Member

Rudolf Steiner believed that it is really important to understand how things work in the world in some basic way. This doesn’t mean, for example, that we all need to know how to build an Audi TT engine, but some experience with acceleration is important.

Coding has become such an important part of how our world works that I started to look at bringing it into my Humanities curriculum. Our high school students are not necessarily experiencing coding unless they’re members of the Robotics Club or pursuing an independent interest, and yet a general knowledge of how code works is essential for our graduates.

Confession, I am no coder. I took one rStudio class in college and it was really hard for me. So I called up my sister, an alumna of the class of 2017, who works in a plant science lab at Stanford and asked her if she would be willing to Zoom in for a demo with my 12th grade Economics students. We came up with an ideal exercise: 12th Graders would use R code to create visual representations of data they’ve been collecting for their Economics work. Each student worked through an example where they followed her through importing the data, adding instructions, and running different lines of code. They each ended up with a colorful graph that matched hers. Their homework was to ask a question related to the research they needed to do for their Senior store, collect their own data, and create their own graphs from those data. Did everyone figure out each part perfectly? No. Did everyone create a graph? Yes.

A big part of this education is building capacities. With each new task students do, they work through something. Visualizing data is a new skill that I hope opens their minds to what they believe they can do, however daunting it first appears to be.


Sixth Grade Statistics Projects

by Dr. Lisa Babinet | Middle and High School Math Faculty

Being able to capture phenomena in the world with numerical data is a powerful skill. Traditionally, sixth graders undertake just that by embarking on a statistics research project with a topic of their choosing. The more interested the students are in the topic, the more fun they have with their project. Students are given guidelines to create a survey, collect data from their peers, and then find participants to complete their survey. Once their data is collected, students calculate basic statistics and create beautiful, varied tables, charts, and graphs capturing the essence of their findings. This project empowers the students to know they can study the world around them, often leading to a desire to ask more questions.

P.S. They’re practicing decimals, fractions, and percents throughout this project with information that is meaningful to them, which is an added bonus!

Here is what they found. Of the people they surveyed:

  • Maya learned from the process that if you can’t answer the question yourself, you should not put it on your survey.
  • Tessa learned that the majority of people liked vanilla ice cream.
  • Matvei learned that on a scale from 1 to 10, 1/3 of them liked music 10 out of 10.
  • Misha learned that more than 80 percent of the people ate breakfast every day.
  • Mai learned that most people traveled within the United States.
  • Rhea learned that teachers were the ones who got into the most mischief.
  • Amira learned that most of them dislike homework.
  • Ava learned that most people read and/or draw before they go to bed, and that only one person cries before they go to bed.
  • Yumeng learned that two people said they had “Deuaphobia.” She is pretty sure that is not a legit phobia, but if it is, she deeply apologizes.
  • Jack learned that so many people like basketball.
  • Sepehr learned that some people think hip hop is a sport.
  • Felix learned that a very large number liked to use graphite pencils to draw.
  • Spencer learned that someone never wants to eat deep fried care glow worm fritters again.
  • Jordan learned that a lot of people like Halloween and that they save their Halloween candy.
  • Jenna learned that most teachers spend $100 – $150 per shopping trip on clothing.
  • Luisa learned that most liked chicken tacos the best.
  • Gloria learned that most people wear five outfits in a school week.
  • Caedence learned that the reason 40% own or don’t own pets is because of their parents.
  • Jasleen learned that the majority of them absolutely love pets.
  • Jasper learned that a lot of people play basketball.
  • Clara learned that most people liked to fill out surveys and don’t like completing their statistics project. Dr. Babinet begs to differ.