COSTA MESA — The classroom's doors were thrown open to let the sunlight in as the students sat at bare wooden desks, working with their hands.
The weather was perfect as the students in the second-grade class knitted multi-colored wool into what would soon become gnomes.
The second-grade class at the Waldorf School of Orange County, 2350 Canyon Drive, was practicing knitting skills Thursday afternoon in a bi-weekly handwork class.
Second-grader Sebastian Khan was working intently on strands of orange, red and pink wool, which he intertwined with large wooden needles. He and his classmates were busy trying to meet the teacher's challenge of doing as many stitches as they could in 60 seconds.
When the minute elapsed, the 8-year-old leaned back in his chair, which balanced precariously on the back two legs. Sebastian then raised his hand urgently in response to the teacher's question about who had made more than 10 stitches.
"I've got more," he said proudly.
The private school, tucked away near the Talbert Nature Preserve, incorporates handwork into its curriculum. The school starts students in first grade with weaving and knitting, and trains students to build upon such skills with each grade, said handwork teacher Angie Meier.
Meier, who learned the art of handwork in Switzerland, guides the students from knitting to crocheting in third grade, cross stitching and basket weaving in fourth, double-pointed needles in fifth, hand sewing in sixth up to using sewing machines in middle school.
The students make a series of projects with functional purposes, but they get more out of the lessons than just a colorful flute case or hat, she said.
Handwork nurtures the children's fine-motor skills while helping them developmentally and teaching them about patience, Meier said.
For students though, the lessons are just a good time.
"I think knitting is really great," said 8-year-old Helena Alaghband. "I don't know why. It just makes me feel better when I'm sad."
The skill has also given students an usual way to spend time with their families. Brooke Wenger, 8, said she knits with her mother, and Sebastian said he will knits with his grandmother when she is in town. His grandmother is really good at knitting, but he is confident he will get to her level one day, he said.
Knitting is part of the culture at Waldorf School, said Denise Ogawa, the director of development.
The school has its own store, Company of Angels, that sells everything needed for parents to hold their own handwork classes at home.
The store is the weekly meeting place for a group of parents who do their own craft projects, said Rachel Skelly, the store's employee and craft group coordinator.
The group gives parents a chance to learn the skills their children are learning in the curriculum, she said.
The children, though, are also doing crafts on their own time. Brooke said that, at home, she tried to make a leash for her Australian shepherd, named Bo, but it didn't work out.
"It was made of yarn and he kept taking it off," she said.
Lotus Lazzara said she is using her knitting skills to turn a profit. The 8-year-old started her own business selling her scarves for $5.