The drawing supplies children use in a Waldorf school evolve as they move through the grades and it all begins with crayons.
Block crayons are the signature Waldorf early childhood drawing material. They’re used in preschool, kindergarten and right up through third grade. I even had fifth graders beg me to purchase them a new set of block crayons. The great thing about block crayons is that their shape makes it difficult for children to draw things with fixed outlines, which is a tendency Waldorf teachers try to curb in their students. Drawing a figure from the inside out allows for much greater flexibility and allows the child to think about the figure itself, not the outline of it. The drawback to block crayons, though, is that they are an awkward shape for the child to hold. A few years ago there was a bit of a ripple through the Waldorf movement when a teacher came forward and said that she noticed her students’ pencil grips in later years being affected in an unhealthy way by the use of block crayons. I don’t think this is reason to abandon block crayons entirely, but I wouldn’t use them exclusively.
The best (and maybe only) block crayons are made by Stockmar, and I found this tin of 8 crayons on Amazon for $13.00. They’re made of beeswax, so they have a pleasant smell (though watch out, I have known several children to devour them). You can store them in the tin they come in, but there are other storage methods that are better (more on that in a minute.) The tin comes with a small scraper that can be used for scraping the bits of color that end up on the crayons when they rub against the other colors. You can use this scraper if you’re so inclined, but do not give it to your children to clean their own crayons, unless you want to end up with chewed up crayons and a pile of colorful beeswax shavings. Rubbing with mineral oil also cleans the crayons, and this is a job that you can give to your children. We often used scratch paper for cleaning our crayons just before we drew with them.
Stockmar stick crayons are more like the traditional crayons you find, though quite a bit chunkier than Crayolas. Why order these expensive beeswax crayons rather than sticking with the tried-and-true, affordable Crayolas? Well, the pigment. The color of these Stockmar crayons is brilliant and beautiful. The also draw more smoothly and evenly than Crayolas. They do not come in the huge variety of color that the Crayolas come in (though you can get more than just the set of eight pictured here), but there is something to be said for limiting the number of colors your child works with at first. A lot can be learned by layering colors to get the desired affect. But, don’t, by any means, throw all of your Crayolas in the trash. Keep them and bring them out every now and then for free drawing. At my house my children have a separate set of supplies that they use for school-work, and we keep Crayolas, markers and tempera paints for free-time. These other supplies feel like dessert for my children and they love it when they get them for Christmas and birthdays.
At our school the children have pouches similar to the one pictured here, to store their crayons. There is a little pocket for each crayon, the sticks and the blocks. The pouch folds in half the long way, rolls up and ties for storage. This kind of pouch has many benefits.
1 — When it’s time to work, the child gets out his or her crayons, unrolls it and lets it lay open along the top of the desk. All the crayons are right there and they don’t take up a huge amount of room on the desk.
2 — If the pouch falls on the floor while open the crayons remain neatly tucked inside and there isn’t the enormous disrupting clatter that there is when a tin of crayons falls to the floor.
3 — Each crayon has it’s own spot so the colors don’t rub off on each other. The crayons need to be cleaned less frequently and you don’t end up with little bits of green in your yellow sun.
At our school there is a tradition for the outgoing eighth grade to make these pouches for the incoming first graders, using an assembly line construction (they’ve just learned about the Industrial Revolution, after all). Ours have been made of corduroy, but I think it would be wonderfully easy to make them out of felt — no hemming of the raw edges required.
“The rare black”
Believe it or not, crayons in the Waldorf movement are a source of great controversy. Some say that Steiner indicated that all the black crayons be removed from the selection of colors for early childhood. Waldorf opponents consider this indication racist and cult-like. I think it’s pretty easy to find things in theory to get your feathers ruffled about but in practice things are a bit different.
We tend to naturally avoid the color black when it comes to young children. If you walk into a baby store you mostly see bright colors and soft pastels — very little black. It is a rare thing to find an infant dressed in black. Steiner’s indication (if in fact he did indicate this) is simply expressing this natural tendency. Okay, but should you remove the black crayon from your children’s pouches?
Different teachers do different things. Personally, I would leave the black in the pouch and see what happens. If a child is drawn towards using lots of black in his drawings, that is an insight I would like to have that I never would have discovered if the black had been removed. If I found that having a black crayon was creating a challenge for the child, preventing him from experiencing other colors, then I might remove it. If your child happily leaves black in its spot and uses it only for hair and tires on cars, then great, let him keep it.
In my aftercare program we tend to receive the hand-me-down crayons and because of previous teachers’ practice of sometimes removing the black crayon, we have just one black crayon in our communal basket. This crayon has become known and loved as “the rare black” and it gets passed around among the spaceship drawers. (I hope my title to this section is not perceived as some comment on the token racial phenomemena.)
What About Drawing Skin?
Should you provide your child with special crayons to use when drawing skin? Black people aren’t black and white people aren’t white (and white crayons don’t show up on white paper anyway) and the Stockmar brown isn’t great for drawing skin. So does it make sense to buy special skin color crayons? Well, no. Before the nine-year-change children view the world in a very undifferentiated way. To them there is no difference between themselves and their African American classmate. A wonderful way to honor this way of viewing the world is to use one color that is neither black nor white to draw all people. It has become customary, then, for Waldorf students to draw people with their gold crayon — signifying the golden light that lives within all human beings.
Who knew that crayons were such a heavy topic! Tomorrow — pencils.