by Edmund Knighton, PhD.
In Study of Man, Rudolf Steiner spoke of our bones as the thinking parts of the body. Staves are the expression of bone in body. Stave activities are particularly important developmentally beginning in preadolescence when students increasingly experience strengthening muscles, stretching tendons, and lengthening bones. Life literally becomes harder for them, as these bodily elements harden. The hardness of the staff reflects the hardening bones, the hardness of life, which can lead to uprightness.
During our movement activities, staves support seated Emperors as their couriers run a Roman Chariot Race; staves support walkers balancing on a Stairway toward Heaven; they are in a Human Pull Up. Dozens of variations of these activities for ages preadolescent to adult were presented and videoed in a 2013 workshop in San Francisco. You can see it on our DVD.
In our instructional DVD for teachers, Dr. Edmund Knighton demonstrates the teaching of dozens of movement activities using wooden rods (staves) at a regional workshop for movement educators at San Francisco Waldorf School in 2013.
Staff uprightness is a gift for youth, who may struggle increasingly against the downward pull of gravity after grade five. The staff represents a manifest image of how to remain upright in an exercise such as Falling Trees or Catch Charlie Cane. The staff-like javelin rainbow throw is introduced in grade five; the javelin flies through the heavens and rests at a point in the earth. The javelin is the loftiest expression of the staff.
Staves are also used to develop balance and the ability to come to rest with the self. Ten places on the body are practicable to balance with a vertical staff. Balance is an internal quality, visible externally through the human being’s ability to introduce stillness in space with an object. The capacity for balance is wonderfully gender neutral.
Staves are excellent for use as props. They give the youth something to do with her hands, which are so sensitive, especially in the heart of the hand, the palm. This is why eurythmy can be so difficult in adolescence, and why staff-work is invaluable (eurythmy uses copper staves). The staff protects the sensitivity of the palms, and allows the student to focus on something other than and outside of herself; the student can thus be less self-conscious, and more confident. Movement during the middle school years can prove painful for the student if it is not carried well by the teacher.
Staves are also awakeners, due to their hardness. If a student is not paying attention, s/he may receive a wake-up call through a bump on the head or foot.
For safety, wear close-toed, rubber-soled, non-heeled shoes for all staff activities. Always place staves that students are not immediately holding and working with out of the way, where they will not be stepped on. Lean them against the wall or place them in a canister. If a student steps on a staff and falls, an injured coccyx or broken arm may result.
Always pick up objects, no matter how small, with the legs bending and torso upright. Upright torsos protect the long thin spinal muscles, which are designed for uprightness; the legs are constructed with large muscles and heavy, solid joints for lifting. The back lends us the graceful subtlety of movement.
When to Introduce Wooden Rods and Staves
During pre-adolescence, when the young person’s bones begin to lengthen and their tendons and muscles begin to mature, is the time to introduce activities with wooden staves. Working alone, with a partner, or with the group, a young person feels appropriately challenged by these difficult activities. As they continue on, into high school and their adult years, regular practice with rods and staves builds uprightness, clarity, precision, balance, conﬁdence, and spatial awareness.
‘Take your well-disciplined strengths and stretch them between two opposing poles. Because inside human beings is where God learns.’
Rainer Maria Rilke — trans. R. Bly — in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart
Edmund Knighton, PhD, is the President of Rudolf Steiner College. Edmund holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, has been an educator at primary, secondary, and graduate schools, and has served on the faculty/administration of five graduate institutes and four Waldorf schools since 1989 (including John Morse, now Alice Birney School, and Sacramento Waldorf School). He is also a researcher, author, and speaker on Waldorf education and movement education. Edmund is also a graduate of Spacial Dynamics® movement training IS-2.