The Waldorf Kindergarten is an extension of the family experience, an intermediate step for the 3- to-6-year-old between the home and formal schooling. The goal of the Waldorf Kindergarten is to nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity in the young child, while encouraging reverence for the goodness of life. In the loving and creative atmosphere of the kindergarten, young children acquire the confidence and discipline they will need for the challenging academic work of the grade school.
The 3 R's in a Waldorf Kindergarten are reverence, repetition, and rhythm. Daily and weekly rhythms, interwoven with seasonal celebrations, support children as they move wholeheartedly into play and learning. Handwork, healthy meals, and regular outdoor play encourage the proper growth of the child’s body. Meanwhile, social interaction and creative play lay the foundation for emotional and social growth.
The quality of the environment of a Waldorf Kindergarten is integral to its goals for the children. The feeling of warmth and security is created by using natural materials, such as wood, cotton, silk, and wool in the construction of the décor and toys, which the children can use to integrate day-to-day activities and imaginative play and imitate the responsible, purposeful actions of Waldorf teachers.
In one corner stands a wooden kitchen for children to pretend they are preparing meals; a pile of wooden boxes and playstands are ready to be constructed into a house, a boat, or a train; homemade dolls lie in wooden cradles surrounded by clothes children may use to create a pretend family and play house. All of the toys—blocks, objects from nature such as shells, boxes, silks, cloths, beanbags, twine—are capable of being transformed at the will of the child’s imagination. Stones can be vegetables in a pretend soup; they can be decorations on a castle, cars rolling down a ramp, or weights that hold play cloths in place. The possibilities are infinite in a child’s imagination.
The simplicity of the classroom is reflected in the playground space as well. Here your child will enjoy a natural environment with trees and bushes in which to hide, stumps and boards to move, build, and balance, along with sand, mulch, shovels, and buckets with which to dig or make “pies.” The Kindergarten classes also take regular nature walks around the school to collect leaves and fruits, listen and watch the birds, and enjoy the sunshine and the breezes.
Inside and outside, the teachers do meaningful work during free play. Often the teachers are preparing various whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for snack. From bread to barley soup, the children help with measuring, cutting, stirring, shaping, and preparing. They also help wash dishes and set the table for snack. Through cooking and other seasonal tasks such as gardening, grinding grains into flour, and mending toys—the children experience the natural cycles of the year and learn practical skills that prepare them for the grades program. This atmosphere of working and caring, of calmness and usefulness translates into children who feel respected, and revered, and safe.
Structured group activities consist of songs, stories, finger plays, and artwork. Fairy tales are told, usually from memory, to the children every day. The same tale is told for four weeks, starting with simple telling of the story and culminating in the children acting out the story as a play with the teacher narrating. Arts and crafts activities consist of water coloring the three primary colors, modeling with beeswax, coloring with beeswax crayons, finger knitting, and doing seasonal crafts throughout the year.
The Kindergarten Daily Rhythm:
8:15-8:30am: Children arrive
From here, the day moves along based on a natural flow and a comforting routine rather than a series of activity period dictated by the clock:
- Free play and snack preparation
- Tidy up and rest
- Circle time—seasonal games, songs, verses, and movement
- Freeplay and seasonal activities
- Story time
Children go home to enjoy lunch, or they stay and have lunch and rest time with the extended care class.
As the children move though their years in the multi-age kindergarten, they are laying a strong foundation for formal schooling. The steady rhythm of the day, week, and year provide security and confidence. The children gain self-confidence and the ability to resolve problems. And as the children spend time in the Kindergarten, they are able to take on roles as follower and leader within the class. This promotes social flexibility and compassion. Free play allows for the development of the child’s imagination and creativity, which is the basis for reading comprehension and learning abstract concepts in the grades. Artistic activities encourage a sense of beauty and wonder. Practical tasks strengthen the child’s will and resolve while providing valuable life experiences on which to build as they grow. Circle time builds the child’s attention span, vocabulary, speech and language skills, and coordinates gross and fine motor skills. Story time also encourages the development of speech and language skills, as well as listening comprehension, imagination, morality, and empathy. Tidy-up and setting the table for snack engage the child’s brain in pre-math activities such as sorting, ordering, and defining one-to-one correspondence. The Waldorf curriculum brings all of this in a developmentally appropriate way, so that when the children are ready for formal schooling they have a solid foundation of life experience and are ready—mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally.
What Are Our Children Doing in Kindergarten?
“What did you do in school today?”
“What did you play?”
“I played with my friends.”
“That’s great, but what did you DO?”
We’ve all had similar conversations with our children at one time or another. We’re dying to know just what it is they do all day, and we’re lucky if they provide us with any small scrap of information like, “David wasn’t in school today,” or “We ate snack outside.” The truth is that young children really don’t recall information in the way adults sometimes expect. Often, something will trigger a memory for a child, and he or she will then proceed to repeat every single song or verse from Circle Time, along with a detailed description of every event and discussion that occurred before, during, and after Circle! The next day, if we ask, “What songs did you sing in Circle?” our question is met with a puzzled look or a blank stare. Although it is reassuring to know that this response is developmentally appropriate, this knowledge does not help us to know exactly what our child is doing in school! Events at school such as our Parent Evenings provide an opportunity to talk more about how our children spend their time in school and to learn about what the Waldorf preschool, kindergarten, and elementary grade curriculums have to offer our children and our society.
Waldorf Kindergarten lays a strong foundation for each aspect of the child—physical, intellectual, social, moral, and creative—to develop in harmony, because each developmental stage is met appropriately by the curriculum. Our daily activities—Circle Time, snack, story time, free play—are all carefully planned and carried out with the needs of the children in mind.
Circle Time provides a social experience in which children develop an awareness of being an individual within a community. The songs and poems are carefully selected so the children experience the beauty, magic, power, and the humor of language. Our seasonal circles help children become more aware of Nature and their surroundings and strengthen their skills in observation and capacity to describe the world around them. In addition, learning the circle helps build in the children the power to memorize, a skill that will come in handy when a play is performed or the periodic table must be learned!
This work carries over into first grade when Circle Time evolves into Opening Exercises intended to set the mood for and support the academic content of the 2½-hour morning main lesson. For example, rhythmic activities in Opening Exercises build an unshakeable knowledge of mathematical principles. Often these
exercises will involve more challenging verses and physical movements designed to lead the children into main lesson in a spirit of activity, concentration, and enthusiasm.
Tidy-up time in the Kindergarten involves teamwork, responsibility, and logic. How can we work as a team to put our room or our playground back together again? If we stop to consider just what it takes to put the blocks, shells, cloths, etc. all in the appropriate baskets on the correct shelf, and to put the dark-colored chairs at the play table and the light-colored chairs at the snack table, and to put all the blue play tubs back in the playhouse, we realize we are talking about set theory! This concept of which things go together is an underlying element of many intelligence tests. But the most obvious benefit of tidy-up time for the children is the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a task that, at first glance, appears to be overwhelming.
Snack time, though its purpose may seem obvious, also teaches important skills. At snack, children remain at the table for an attention-span lengthening time of around thirty minutes. We recite verses as snack is prepared and distributed, and each day we follow the same predictable routine before, during, and after
snack. As adults, we often forget what a tremendous amount of concentration is involved in simply remembering to stay in our chairs! The concentration and ability to sit at the table for longer periods of time prepares the children for reading and writing. We further support this goal by emphasizing a left-to-right
movement when serving. When setting the table and collecting the trash, cups, and compostable goods, children are also learning one-to-one correspondence: one placemat per child, one cup per placemat, etc. Often the children will spontaneously begin to count out loud as water is poured into each cup.
During tidy-up time and snack, children are also developing habits that will carry our children through their academic careers. The care we take in folding cloths, putting chairs away, arranging placemats is intended to develop in the children an attention to detail that may later emerge in elementary school years as neat
handwriting, good study habits, and a sense of pride in their work.
Stories told to the children are selected for nourishing images and beautiful language. By telling stories of different styles, cultures, and time periods, we expose the children to many new ideas and strengthen their sense of their place in the larger world. As their vocabulary grows and their understanding of story structure deepens, children develop a strong foundation and love for writing.
Finally, the Waldorf curriculum is designed to provide plenty of opportunity for creative play—perhaps the most important and most threatened aspect of child development in our society. In “Child’s Play,” a classic article reprinted in the fall 1993 Waldorf Kindergarten Newsletter, Joseph Chilton Pearce explains the
significance of play for the young child:
Play is the royal road to childhood happiness and, later, adult brilliance. A metaphor, for instance is an image that can transfer meaning, and children develop metaphoric thinking in the most concrete ways. Using some object or image to stand for something else is symbolic-metaphoric action and a high point of creative thought.
The toys and materials in our classroom are specifically selected with this kind of thinking in mind. For example, the wooden blocks in our classroom are used to represent everything from cookies on a picnic to stepping stones across a raging blue river of blue cloth. Each day, teachers are amazed by the creating thinking and problem-solving that takes place right before our eyes!
Often we are asked, “When will my child learn letters?” or “Why don’t you teach academic subject matter in the Kindergarten?” The simple answer is that we believe the Waldorf Kindergarten curriculum lays the strongest possible foundation for all future learning, academic or otherwise. In Learning That Grows With
The Learner, Henry Barnes writes:
The environment should offer the child plenty of opportunity for meaningful imitation and creative play. This supports the child in the central activity of these early years: the development of the physical organism. Drawing the child’s energies away from his or her fundamental task to meet premature intellectual demands robs the child of the health and vitality he or she will need for later life. In the end, it weakens the very powers of judgment and practical intelligence the teacher wants to encourage.
The fact of the matter is that Waldorf kindergartners are counting and learning language every day! For example, we count the number of children who are absent and place a gold star for each one on our wall. Our children hear beautiful language all day, from Circle Time to Story Time, and often they are overheard repeating particularly memorable or alliterative phrases.
Children receiving a Waldorf curriculum will most certainly learn to read and write, add and subtract, multiply and divide, all at the appropriate time. For now, what your children are doing in Kindergarten is the work of the young child, and what wonderful work it is!