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 a couple of playstands are ready to be constructed into a house, a boat, or a train; homemade dolls lie in wooden cradles surrounded by clothes that 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
From the time the children arrive at school at 8:30am, 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, with seasonal games, songs, verses, and movement
- Free play and crafts/handwork
- Story time
At 12:30pm, the core program finishes and 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.