The Role of Handmade in Montessori - Child Hand-dipped Beeswax Candles - Winter Solstice Activity
"Some objects are rapidly mass-produced by press or machine and are exactly alike. Others are made slowly by hand, and each is different from the other. The value of handmade objects is that each carries the individual imprint of the artist who created it." - Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family.
Today is Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. ❄️ Making candles is a lovely way to celebrate Winter Solstice and it's also a fantastic warming, practical life activity.
Part of this practical life activity is simply learning the process of how to make candles. We melt the wax, dip the wicks, allow them to cool then light them. We can show the child that they have the ability to make wonderful, useful products by hand. Then if we break down the activity, there are lots of small skill-building steps such as measuring, cutting and rolling.
Candles can be used at mealtime, storytime (Waldorf style) or on the nature table. Because young children, may not have the attention and patience to make larger candles, this is a good activity to make smaller (thinner) birthday candles or candles for other celebrations. The childmade, handmade candles would also make a wonderful gift to friends, family, teachers, or other caregivers!
This isn't a tutorial but hopefully, this gives you an idea that you can explore further at home or at school.
We melted our beeswax in a small slow cooker. On the 'low' setting, it took around two hours to melt. Once the wax is completely melted I set the slow cooker to the 'warm' setting and it kept the wax melted and the slow cooker is warm to the touch. On the warm setting if the child or adult accidentally touches the cooker it feels warm, not hot or burning.
The most popular way I've seen others melt beeswax is with a double boiler. I love working with beeswax so I'm happy to have a slow cooker dedicated to melting wax but a double boiler would be more practical for many people. If you put your wax in a tall can or jar, in the pot of hot water, you will be able to create taller candles too.
The West Coast Steiner School has a good article on candle dipping with a whole class.
I didn't use a thermometer but it would be useful. From The Beeswax Workshop: "Beeswax melts between 140°F (60°c) and 147°F (63°c). Temperatures over 185°F (85°c) discolour beeswax and damage the crystalline structure of the wax. The flashpoint is 400°F (204°c). Never let your beeswax get that hot. The ideal dipping temperature for beeswax is 155F (68°c)-165F (74°c). If it's too hot, the wax will not congeal around the wick. If it's too cold, you'll get a pebbling on the sides of the candle instead of a smooth surface." I have added Celcius temps in the quote and they are all approximate.
We dip the wick pieces into the melted wax. We allow the wax to cool then dip it again, over and over until the candle is the desired size or the child runs out of patience. To get the candle straight and not too bumpy, we very gently roll the warm candle on a marble board (some people use a glass board). Then allow the candle to complete dry/set. This activity requires 100% direct adult supervision.
Slowing but smoothly the child dips the candle in and out of the wax.
The candles need to cool before dipping them again.
We found the very thin birthday candles take less than half an hour to make. Larger candles like this take around an hour.
The candles are so warm and smooth. Perfect for a cold and rainy day.
We need to very carefully roll some of the candles. We need to do this at the very start to make the candles straight, we do it when the candles are very warm and flexible.
This is not a production line, we are making the candles slowly with love and intention. If you want to make more candles, faster there are a lot of methods to try including using a pencil or rod to dip the candles and drying racks.
After the candles have dried the child can snip the wicks.
We also need to make the bottoms of the larger candles flat if we want them to stand up. We can cut them (with scissors or a knife) when they are warm. Or after each dipping, we can flatten the bottom by pressing the candle onto a flat hard surface.
Then we can light them and enjoy their gentle glow.
Pue joy!! 🕯