Kindergarten February Update
By Cristan Vineis, Kindergarten Teacher
Over the course of the last few weeks our Kindergarten children have been experiencing warmth in all kinds of ways. Being a Waldorf school that values the importance of outdoor learning, we need to work hard to create warmth for the children in the unpredictable, wet and chilly winter weather. I’m writing today to bring you a picture of how we cultivate this both inside and outside and also to tell you why, for it is not just a physical need we nurture, but an emotional and social need as well.
This month inside, our morning circle was an imaginative journey of marching up a mountain where we sawed down trees, carried them home and chopped wood to then build a fire. We also played a game in which the children used their whole bodies to “sew” a sweater for a friend. We also sat in a circle and passed around “tea” (bean bags). Last week we played “a tisket a tasket,” a traditional Valentine’s Day children’s skipping and chasing game. Like most of our circles, this one provided many opportunities for crossing both the vertical and horizontal midlines and utilizing parallel limb movements, but what made this circle just right for this time of year was the focus on warmth giving: both the vigorous movement and the imaginative pictures of giving, creating, and sharing warm things.
To bring these imaginations to life even more the children sawed and collected wood on our walks and then chopped the wood to build fires in our fire pit (under Mr Kennedy’s direct supervision, of course). Inside, last week all of the children used needles to sew their paper heart pockets together. We offered warm herbal tea to the children at lunchtime. And of course, on Valentines Day the children gave handmade gifts to one another. All of these little moments enliven the “lessons” that were introduced to the children in the morning circle time. Cultivating these threads throughout the day brings a cohesiveness to our days as well as nurturing seeds of interest.
With parent’s integral help in dressing your children in layers and proving both waterproof and warm outer gear we are able to help the children regulate their temperatures both inside and outside. Our classroom is generally warm and our circle and play is often quite active. We encourage the children to start the day with layers on, peeling them off as needed. It is important to remember that the kindergarten aged child does not always have the ability to know when they are cold or hot and we teachers are attentive to this burgeoning capacity.
The importance of physical warmth cannot be overstated. Young children use the same forces to develop their internal organs as they do to keep their bodies at a homeostatic temperature. In other words, when a child is cold they use their energy to keep their temperature up potentially at the expense of growing. When a child is cold and wet they are more susceptible to illness, as well, as there is less available energy to fight off viruses. So, the prominent “goal” for us as teachers is to ensure the health giving properties of warmth to the kindergarteners. We cannot explicitly teach the children to develop awareness of their body temperatures- this is a sense that grows in consciousness over time from within the child. However, we can check in with them, feeling their hands and the backs of their necks, to provide moments of self-awareness and language with which to express their inner condition. We can also work to develop good habits of wearing appropriate layers and materials for the weather.
In terms of the particular skills or abilities that this “warmth giving” month provided via the curriculum: Sawing, carrying, chopping and stacking wood are all activities that are not just good opportunities to practice bilateral and parallel limb movements and midline crossing, but they are useful skills to learn! Even if your child never builds another fire again in their life, they have had the experience of doing something useful and meaningful for themselves and for their friends. For the older kindergarteners in particular, this goal-oriented and purposeful work has tremendous value and importance.
Sewing, too, in another one of those important life skills that some people never ever use in adulthood but that offers excellent fine motor skill development and hand strengthening in childhood. The ability to “follow the thread” can be a metaphor for the growing child who is beginning to make intellectual connections in their life: it is building a foundation for logic later on down the road.
He is an anthroposophical doctor practicing in Denver. He was also the keynote speaker at the recent Waldorf Early Childhood conference where he spoke of how the experience of physical warmth and elicit feelings of social connectedness and morality. The above link is to his article that cites the scientific research, as well as other considerations of warmth in the young child.