Immediately upon entering a Waldorf kindergartens, visitors are struck by the peaceful nature of the room. The lighting is natural and softly muted by the curtains. The floor is carpeted and the tables, chairs, and play structures are wooden, making the room warm and inviting. The classroom is orderly, uncluttered, and harmonious, with open areas that invite and support children's play. In all, it is a setting that reassures children because it is much more like a home than an institution.
But providing a protected, home-like setting that is welcoming and familiar is also sound educational practice. It is based on creating recognizable routines that foster a sense of predictability and security. For the young child, the whole world is new and mysterious, and at times confusing. Young children can easily mistake morning recess time for dismissal, Saturdays for schooldays, and teachers for parents. The Waldorf preschool program helps children understand the world by providing predictability through rhythm.
Rhythm in this instance is not about music, but rather about the gentle repetition of everyday activities. It is through rhythm that children come to know that there is order and security in the world. When a weekday is consistently painting day, the sight of the brushes, painting paper, and paints fill the children with expectation. And so it goes throughout the week, each day regularly bringing a particular undertaking. Mornings that invariably begin with calm, self-directed play and teacher-initiated activity, and end with a carefully told story provide children with a dependable routine.This helps them to stay centered and anxiety free, providing fertile ground for their educational experience.
The learning that takes place in the kindergartens forms the foundation of a child's education. This learning occurs most successfully when it is experiential. The active nature of young children impels them toward participation and imitation.
The Waldorf kindergarten program is designed to keep children healthy. It offers a peaceful environment with caring teachers, engaging activities, and ample time for play. Direct academic instruction is noticeably absent from the Waldorf early childhood program because a conscious effort is made to provide concrete rather than abstract learning experiences and to keep academic pressures out of the young child's world. Early academic pressures sap the vitality of children at a time when they should be growing strong and healthy.
Waldorf kindergarten students also learn a multitude of lessons from the stories they are told. They learn to understand the sequential, organized thought that is modeled in a story and to read the facial cues and intonation of the storyteller. They intuitively come to understand plot and character development. Their vocabularies and imaginations are enriched, and above all, they acquire a love of stories that becomes the foundation of literacy.
When children sit down to snack, to eat the apples they have washed, important lessons are being conveyed. For at this moment, when all the children are eager to share in the Earth's bounty, they are asked to wait for a grace to be spoken and for everyone to be served. These three, four, five, and six year-olds are sharing a sense of gratitude for their food and developing much needed social awareness. They are becoming companions in the truest sense of the word.
The schedule for each day in a Waldorf kindergarten also allows for ample time outdoors. Even in urban areas and in spite of rainy weather, a Waldorf kindergarten playground offers children a regular opportunity to connect with nature, engage in robust physical activity, and to experience the joys and wonders of the changing seasons.
The Waldorf kindergarten program is designed to support the healthy development of young children by
- Building strength, perseverance, and good habits.
- Developing social awareness and sensitivity.
- Awakening a life-long enthusiasm for learning and for work.