During the first three years of life, the child faces the monumental challenges of learning to walk, to speak and to think. In the following years, countless other capacities and skills need to be developed in order for the child to become independent. The education of the young child is a particularly challenging endeavour.
Young children respond strongly to rhythm and they are tremendously helped when there is rhythm and regularity in their lives. In all Waldorf Kindergarten each day has a rhythm. In our Kindergarten the morning begin with the ‘morning song’; followed by a session of ‘show and tell’. There is a period of play, both indoors and outdoor and work, followed by ‘circle time’ consisting of verses, nursery rhyme, songs and circle games. The morning session ends with a story.
Each week has a rhythm as well; there is a day for cooking or baking, another for painting, a third for craft, a fourth for the paddling pool and a fifth for singing. Seasonal activities such as gardening, nature walks, walks in the rain serve to deepen the children’s awareness of the world around them. Seasonal festivals which celebrate the bounty of nature foster a connection to the cycle of the year. Through such activities, which are taken up rhythmically, a child’s feeling for the cycles of life and of nature is strengthened. In later years this feeling may sustain a sense of well being and a sense of connection to the natural world.
Young children also have an intimate connection to their surroundings; and everything they encounter makes a deep impression on them. Because they are so sensitive and receptive, one might conceive of young children as sense organs that perceive the world with their whole beings. Since the surroundings in which children are raised and educated affect them deeply, we take great care to create an environment that is nourishing to the senses – we strive to create an environment where order and beauty prevail.
But it is what you are that matters; if you are good this goodness will appear in your gestures; and if you are bad tempered this also will appear in your gestures; in short everything that you do yourself passes over into the children and makes its way within them. This is the essential point. Children are wholly sense organ, and react to all the impressions of the people around them.
Young children not only perceive and respond to their environment, they also reflect and express the gesture of their surrounding and the people in their lives. This places a great responsibility on the adults responsible for raising and educating the child: they must be worthy of imitation.
What you say, what you teach does not yet make an impression on young children except in so far as children imitate what you say in their own speech.
The education of young children is therefore largely a matter for the adults on self education. At our Kindergarten we as teachers work to become even more conscious of ourselves and committed to our strivings; we work to transform ourselves so that the children in our care will be nourished by the truth, beauty and goodness living in our thoughts, words and deeds.
Imitation can take several forms. A young child might imitate someone’s actions directly. If a teacher is weaving or braiding for example, a child might also want to weave or braid. Children might also imitate in their play the actions they have encountered. For instance a group of children might join together to form a family of mother, father and children; they will work and clean and care. Children also imitate our inner attitude. Kindergarten teachers therefore try to pervade everything they do with care… This will reflect in the way they place an object on a table, or the way they put the toys away at ‘clean up’ time. If parents and teachers approach common life tasks such as cooking or cleaning with reverence and care, children will develop a deep respect for work and the material things. If however such tasks are done quickly and sloppily, this will be reflected in children’s difficulties in finding meaning in life.
Young children love to play. Through play, they enter the activities of the adults around them. The best kind of activities for kindergarten children are therefore those that allow them to engage on a child’s level, in the work of adults. In the Waldorf Kindergarten children are offered the possibility of participating in the traditional activities that might take place in a home; cooking and baking, cleaning and washing, sewing and ironing, gardening and building. Because these activities are done rhythmically they create a feeling of well being and sense of security in the child. Because they are real, they help a child grounded in the realities of life. Because they serve a purpose and are filled with meaning they help the child enter more fully into life at a later age.
Waldorf Kindergarten teachers do not place premature academic demands on their students. Rather they allow the children’s intellectual faculties to unfold naturally so that by the time children enter the elementary grades they are ready and eager to experience new form of leaning.
Young children are imbued with natural piety, for they view the world with wonder and they give themselves fully to every experience. Waldorf Kindergarten teachers try to keep alive children’s natural sense of wonders and their sense of oneness and unself conscious participation with the world.
Working with young children is extraordinarily challenging, for it demands that teachers workout of the very essence of their being and willing to put themselves aside in the service of the child.
Teachers who chose to work in the Kindergarten must be willing to ask themselves:
- What must I do to obliterate as far as possible, my personal self in order to keep those entrusted to my care from being burdened by my subjective nature?
- How should I act so that I do not interfere with the children’s destiny?
- And above all, how can I best educate the children towards human freedom?
Although the responsibilities of working with young children are immense, the rewards are boundless; the seeds that are sown during the early years will sprout and grow and their blossoms and fruit will enrich the rest of the children’s lives.