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What Kindergarten Is Right For Your Child?
Our kids are going back to school this week. They are happy, and so are we. This is the beginning of our fourth year as Waldorf parents and our enthusiasm has not diminished over time. On the contrary, every year we are convinced that Waldorf is the right place to send our children.
The result of Waldorf education is the careful nurturing of the child into a strong, deep-rooted, free-thinking adult, capable of seeing the spiritual in both the spiritual and the mundane – and the spiritual in the mundane. The Waldorf curriculum recognizes that the child is a being of nature and spirit, and that these two aspects are intertwined as the child grows.
Enough lecturing! What do you actually see in a Waldorf Kindergarten?
Tidy cubbies. Near the room’s entrance is a row of wooden cubbies with rainboots and rain gear (or snow boots and snow gear, depending on the time of year), slippers, shoes and a change of clothes. Children at Waldorf play outside for at least a short time every day, regardless of the weather (well, except during thunderstorms and blizzards). Children this age are still closely connected to the natural world and need time outside just as much as they need sleep and food. Names are not written on cubbies; Each cubby has a personal hand-drawn icon (fawn, squirrel, maple tree…). The same symbol is used to mark the child’s seat. No writing is used, as Waldorf kindergartens do not teach reading. (See footnote below.)
Room organization. No desk lines. It’s a space with a mix of carpet and flooring, a large table with children’s chairs around it, and activity areas lining the walls — a small working kitchen, a dress-up area, a privacy nook, etc. — all. Enticing the heart of a child.
Kitchen area. Work sink with wash basin, ceramic plates, solid glass cups and cotton cloths. Here children wash napkins, plates and silverware after breakfast.
Natural materials. Speaking of ceramics, glass and cotton, everything you see around you in the room is made of natural materials — wood, stone, metal, glass. No plastic. Children this age are still integrating their senses (you know if you know a child with sensory integration difficulties, as we did), and it’s very helpful for them to be able to consistently match textures, weights, colors and patterns. Natural materials such as wood always look and feel the same; The child receives constant messages. Plastics come in bright colors and any number of strange textures and weights. Moreover, natural materials are more convenient for a child.
Dress-up area. Here hangs a rack of costumes and a box full of tiaras, boas, sashes and hats. All dresses are made of cotton, wool, silk and other natural fibers.
nature table. Children find eternal treasures in nature: pine cones, rocks, feathers, flowers, cicada shells, autumn leaves. They are lovingly arranged on this table — a kind of altar to nature.
Privacy niche. My other daughter loved this place. Silk drapes hang over the space, about four feet square, perfect for sitting quietly whenever you want. No more than two children are allowed in the privacy area at a time. My daughter loved to come here and sit and sing to herself — and whoever joined her.
Craft time. Kids do crafts, not worksheets. They learn the specialty of Waldorf painting: the wet-on-wet method, which encourages experimentation with color mixing. They also learn sewing, felting and gnome making.
Free games. Allowing children to play freely allows them to develop as they please. Importantly, while children are playing, adults are not doing paperwork; They do tangible work that children can safely participate in or imitate: washing dishes, ironing, polishing apples, oiling wood, baking bread. The point is to create an environment where children feel safe, but not centered. It is not healthy for children to feel that adults are no better than doting on them.
Birthday celebration. The class has a party on the child’s birthday. The children gather around while the teacher tells the story of the child’s birth and life up until now. The story begins with the boy’s spirit looking down upon Earth and deciding to descend to join its people. Candles can be lit as the story is told, one more candle for each year of life. Then there is a special cake for the children which is baked by the teacher.
food: All food is completely natural, no weird chemicals or additives. The menu emphasizes whole grains and organic foods. Children usually help with the preparation. Snacks frequently consist of porridge or some other porridge, fruit, tea and water.
And there is a wooden rocking chair, the back of which is covered with sheep’s wool. This is where the teacher tells stories, the children gathered at her feet and lap. Here is the hearth of the classroom, where even when the room is empty you feel the young heart lingering.
Not all classrooms are the same, even in the same school. A Waldorf school is not organized as a hierarchy, but as a cooperative of teachers. No regulations are issued by state or school principals or by the National Association of Waldorf Schools. Teachers put their personal stamps on their classrooms. However, you will see most of these things in every kindergarten. Waldorf teachers know what works.
You can find many of these things at good non-Waldorf kindergartens. But Waldorf brings them all together. Above all, in a Waldorf, they are essential kindergarten occupations, nothing to keep kids happy when you try to force the 3 R’s down their throats. Natural materials, stories, birthdays, daily activities, simple crafts — this is the center of kindergarten because these little ones are still very much wild things, like butterflies roaming the garden of your life. As they grow, they will gradually be tamed through your efforts and their own. Don’t push! They tame themselves very quickly. Let them settle into humanity at their own pace.
Footnotes on reading. Maybe you can read between the lines of this post and find out why Waldorf Kindergartens don’t teach reading. The simple reason for this is that many, perhaps most, children are not ready to read at this age. They might learn it if it is pushed upon them, but many will resist and eventually learn that reading is hard work and not enjoyable. Learning to read at this age is too much of an effort for many children, and their energies may be better spent elsewhere. It is an entirely different matter if a child teaches himself to read; The child has decided for himself that reading is for him and that is good. But most Waldorf children begin to learn to read in the first grade. By age 10, Waldorf children read faster, more comprehendingly, and more happily than children in public schools.
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