Waldorf early childhood education is a unique and holistic approach to education that emphasizes the development of the whole child, including their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The Waldorf early childhood program is tailored to meet each child’s developmental needs during this sacred time of childhood through play, an environment of love and warmth, and rhythms.
Play is seen as the natural way that children learn and develop. Free play is encouraged in all aspects of the early childhood program, as it provides the child with the opportunity to engage in imaginative and creative activities that support their growth and development. Waldorf education recognizes that children learn through their experiences in the world around them, and free play provides a safe and supportive environment for this exploration.
Love & Warmth
Children not only learn through play, but they also observe and perceive unconsciously, learning through their senses and experiences in the world around them. During this early childhood period, children develop their sense of self, their emotional and social skills, and their cognitive abilities. Waldorf education facilitates this development by providing a nurturing environment filled with love and warmth that supports the child's natural curiosity, creativity, and imagination. The classroom is carefully designed to provide a warm, nurturing, and homelike environment for the child. The furniture and toys are chosen for their quality and beauty, and natural materials such as wood, wool, and silk are used throughout the classroom. But the most important aspect, although quite magical indeed, is not the physical classroom, but rather the relational environment within the space—the relationships children have with their teachers, as well as the relationships the teachers have with others. Waldorf teachers strive to build strong relationships with their students, and to create a safe and supportive environment for them to learn and grow. Waldorf teachers also recognize the importance of the family in the child's development and work to build strong partnerships with parents and caregivers. “Children who live in an atmosphere of love and warmth, and who have around them truly good examples to imitate, are living in their proper element.” [Rudolf Steiner, The Education of the Child] Waldorf early childhood teachers make a commitment to embody gratitude, reverence, and wonder in all they do, and to continue on their path of inner development. This love and reverence, in turn, radiates out toward the children.
Because the Waldorf early childhood program attempts to mimic a homelike environment, the practical activities of daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms are also an integral part of the Waldorf early childhood program. These rhythms provide the child with a sense of predictability and stability, which is important for their emotional well-being. The daily rhythm includes activities such as free play, food preparation and communal eating, and other meaningful work (such as sweeping). Songs and stories are weaved in throughout the day and are often linked to different activities or times of day, which also engages the children and eases transitions. The weekly rhythm includes activities such as baking, painting, and gardening, which help to engage the child's creativity and curiosity. The seasonal rhythm helps create a sense of wonder and excitement, as the child learns about the natural world and its cycles. Festival celebrations are also a magical element of Waldorf education, which help to foster a sense of community and interconnectedness with the world.
Not only do play, love and warmth, and rhythms honor the whole child and meet them where they are at developmentally, but they also preserve the sacredness of childhood and play, bringing about a magical element to Waldorf education, with the hopes of each child blossoming into his or her unique and full potential.