Waldorf Kindergartens are unique. Waldorf kindergartens are intentional. Waldorf kindergarten methodologies are now backed by science. They are also unlike any other school setting, both public and private schools alike.
When you first walk into the classroom the difference is palpable. The first thing you might notice is how wonderful it smells. Each day the teachers and children create their snacks and lunches together; from homemade bread to pizza to soup; they all work together using wholesome and organic ingredients and child-friendly cooking utensils. In doing so the children not only practice their fine motor skill development but they learn how to contribute to the good of the whole group as well. The second thing that stands out is the beauty of the physical environment. The walls are painted in calming tones, there are live plants and no plastic or electronic toys; the toys are made of all natural materials such as wool, silk, wood, cloth, and stone. They are open-ended and can become anything the child can imagine. There are very little restrictions on how they can be used during play. Nothing is off-limits when fort building, including the furniture!
But what makes Waldorf Kindergarten so successful?
Waldorf teachers understand the now scientifically proven importance of unstructured free play for the developing young child. They understand children need, and are given, large segments of time for play both indoors and outdoors. Free-play is an opportunity to stretch the child’s imagination, a time to explore the boundaries of the social experience, to process what they’ve seen, heard or thought in a healthful, full-body way. It is where the foundations of creativity are built.
With free play as the main stage for social skills development, the teachers actively work with the children on enhancing their social graces throughout the day. Much time is devoted to working through conflicts and allowing other children space to feel their feelings. It is important for every child to feel heard and seen. Waldorf teachers see conflict as a healthy opportunity to brush off rough edges and to learn more about one another’s feelings.
Free play in nature is imperative and a cornerstone of Waldorf education. Not only are elements of the outdoor world brought into the classroom through nature tables and as content for daily movement circles and story times, but children are brought outside each day, in all kinds of weather, and once again offered both structured and unstructured playtime. The Waldorf kindergarten playground is equipped with play structures that encourage a wide range of gross motor movement (spinning, swinging, digging, climbing, balancing, running, sliding, etc.). Additionally, frequent nature walks allow the children to explore nature in a free way; the children are free to move in unconscious, instinctual ways to meet the demands of the varying terrain that they encounter in wooded areas, forests, meadows, beaches, riversides, and more! All these opportunities for full body movement develop good core strength, balance, proprioception, and stamina, all in an unhurried, child-centered way that nurtures the child’s curiosity, creativity and a sense of wonder. Children are allowed to take healthy risks, such as climbing trees. Even going outside in inclement weather is considered a healthy challenge for the children. There is value in being outside in all weather as it allows children to develop resilience and fortitude. In her article, “Children that Play Outside in All Weather Grow up Resilient,” Andrew McMartin states that “(k)ids who play outside in challenging weather are more positive, more creative and more adaptable. They don’t let challenges stop them. They rise to challenges and find ways to carry on in spite of them.”
While the bulk of movement is brought to the children via the above mentioned free play, the teachers also bring specific gross and fine motor movements to the children by way of a daily morning circle. This group experience is filled with rich language brought through song and verse, which is matched with articulated and developmentally challenging movements. Not only are the children experiencing a fun and imaginative “movement journey” but the teacher is helping the children to gain mastery over their bodies. This is an economical way for the teacher to lay the important foundation for later academic success. If a child can learn to be in control of his body, he can be inwardly still enough to take up the academic content of the grades curriculum.
By Cristan Vineis, Kindergarten Lead Teacher