Considering the Temperaments and Handwork SessionNov 14, 2023
Earlier this autumn, in our class four main lesson work we explored the story of the four winds and found our way from there into the four cardinal directions of the compass while experiencing the shift in the seasons as the year unfolds. Our chats during Parent Office Hours always bring interesting topics forward and one of them brought us to the topic of temperaments and their presence in child’s experience of their work, play, and specifically handwork. Before taking a peek at what we might notice in those experiences, let’s expand our view to the sweeping panorama of a path through one’s life.
Tracing a path through one’s life we can see how various stages of life have their overarching temperament qualities themselves. Childhood’s changeable and airy experiences imbue tones of sanguinity while the years of youth can be colored with tones of choleric temperament with the storms and adventures up the mountains and across the stormy seas that young adulthood brings. Almost too soon, the middle part of life arrives bringing its melancholic notes which can be either blue or deeply golden, depending on how one experiences the journey, and the old age envelops one in the warm embraces of the phlegmatic temperament which can also be experiences in its many forms, comfort and balance or inactivity and stagnation or serenity and warm peacefulness, and so on.
Having been a Waldorf teacher for years and having attended extensive training programs and faculty retreats with lengthy explorations of the temperaments, I find them to be such an insightful layer of our life-long quest to understand the mysteries of ourselves and us as human beings. At the same time, very often chats about temperaments as seen through the lens of Waldorf education focus on extreme, almost caricature, examples of each temperament departing from what Steiner’s lectures on the four temperaments invited us to consider. Rather than to create oversimplified views of personality expressions, Steiner sought to invite us to consider them within the marvelously endless variety of human beings.
“...how endlessly varied people are! We need only consider temperament, the subject of today's lecture, in order to realize that there are as many riddles as there are people. Even within the basic types known as the temperaments, such variety exists among people that the very mystery of existence seems to express itself within these types.” (Steiner, 1909, GA57)
To consider the four temperaments within the Waldorf pedagogical approach, it is important to understand that every human being will express a tendency towards with varying degrees of the other three temperaments mixed in. The striving therefore is to open ourselves to what manifests as a balanced personality within our unique individual expression of them. And the further we go into the study of tis intriguing topic, the more loudly the question of how this can be relevant or applied in teaching our children. There are many ways in which our continual striving to understand our own and our students’ temperaments assists us in meeting each other and journeying through lessons and assignments in ways that meet and inspire every step of the way.
If you find this topic interesting reading The Four Temperaments by R. Steiner (1909, GA57) is a great place to start. In the meantime, let’s consider how we could meet each of the four temperament expressions in a session / lesson focused on handwork.
It goes a long way to focus on what the child has within in order to stimulate the child’s interest in the work at hand while remembering that through the warmth of love for the child the interest in the sanguine child will awaken and the admiration for the parent/teacher will awaken, too. Bring brightness and beauty of color into the handwork project, a warm presence, a smile, and love for both the child and the project at hand.
Meeting this child with a clearly shown understanding of what goes on around the child is of great importance. Being sure you have practiced and mastered the project you are inviting the child to work on / learn through with you is also crucial as this temperament seeks and deeply respects loving leadership and a warm loving presence of parent/teacher authority that arises from real experience and knowledge. The tasks shall offer a true challenge as this student will rise to the challenge and grow greatly in overcoming it. Bring clear instructions, practice the project beforehand, know exactly the path through the project, and be sure that it is not too easy.
This child seeks to know and feel that the parent/teacher taking him on a journey of learning has conquered trials in life and has known struggle, not in a way of telling long detailed experiences, but in a way that is felt rather then discussed. Compassion and sympathy for others are deeply felt by this temperament. Bring a handwork project prepared in great detail that offers a sense of both challenge and awakens the interest in detailed and at times difficult work. Needlework and cross-stitch offer excellent examples of how this can be achieved.
To engage and awaken sincere interest in this temperament, sharing with others and comforts in the environment are of great importance. Bring the handwork project at hand into a space where it is shared and done together with family and a few friends. This child will find so much enthusiasm in the sharing of the work and opportunities to help others. Allow them to help and take time with progress on the project itself as they will be the children who will stop everything to untangled a pile of messy yarn for you and find even more interest in the work when allowed to help out.
Ms. Daniela, Class 4 Teacher
Read more blog posts on Handwork HERE.
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