In July my husband and I packed up our beautiful house in Chester, said a teary goodbye to our friends and moved 250 miles to Brighton. The reason? So our two-year-old daughter could follow in my footsteps and go to a Steiner Kindergarten. Steiner Kindergartens traditionally start at age three and the child will stay in the same kindergarten, with the same teacher, for three years until they are about to turn seven. They will then go on into class one and start more formal learning which includes reading and writing – up until then children will see their names by their pegs and have developed some recognition but no formal learning is introduced.
Over the last few months I have been working as a kindergarten assistant, this has been a truly enriching and enlightening experience and stands in stark contrast to my previous job as an Art Teacher in mainstream education. I have been considering what it is I love about the Steiner Early Years education and the list is endless but here are a few of my thoughts.
Firstly, there is the physical aesthetics of the Kindergarten. Always painted the soft pink of the rising sun the rooms are warm, homely and inviting with soft curves being a common feature. The play equipment is simple and natural and engages imagination. You will see a small ‘house’, normally with a wooden cooker with some brass and wooden kitchen objects, as well as some dolls carefully dressed and tucked up in beds. It is magical to see the children playing together, building houses, making shops, caring for animals uninterrupted and fully engaged.
The room becomes the perfect space for the daily and weekly rhythm of kindergarten life to unfold.
The timings of the day are the same each day. Each week the children will eat the same food on the same day, do the same activity, with slight seasonal variations, on the same day. For the children there is huge security in knowing what is coming and knowing what is excepted of them. The food is wholesome and unprocessed and always eaten together around a table. All the kindergarten help to set the table, say a blessing and clear away. As the assistant prepares food in the open plan kitchen the children can observe her while moving in and out of their own play – much as they would do at home. It is not unusual to hear kindergarten children ask ‘is it rice day? or ‘millet day’? It is such a blessing to hear some of the conversions that take place around the table!
Stories & Ring Time
Stories are told most days in Kindergarten and the same story will be told for at least a week – sometimes more. This is so the children can really digest and learn from the carefully chosen healing tale. Sometimes they are brought to life with a simple puppet show.
Each day the children take part in a ring time, the children come together to learn and recite verses and poems with actions. Ring times reflect the changing seasons and often have a story to tell. They are fun and engaging and children really like them, they strengthen their ability to retain information and imitate the adults around them. My own daughter comes home singing and telling us that she’s been ‘counting the lambs in the field’.
From my own experience as a teacher, one of the main things that sets a kindergarten aside from a mainstream school is the use of language. Kindergarten teachers are very considerate in the way they speak to the children, aware that the young child is learning and imitating all the time. No blaming or shaming is done; the child is gently but firmly reminded of the expectations. When a child runs in the classroom a kindergarten teacher doesn’t raise their voice and repeat the ‘rules’ from a place of ‘don’t do…’ but will kindly remind the child that, ‘feet are for walking on in the kindergarten’. A kindergarten teacher is always seeking to engage the child’s internal motivation though daily tasks and work; no reward charts are used.
There is a deep respect for the child and an understanding that they are learning from the adults around them and so the adults must be worthy of imitation at all times.
Throughout the year the children complete seasonal crafts from natural materials and take them home. In autumn they may make conker webs, in spring Easter baskets. The upmost care is taken and the beautiful creations the children make are treasured by the families.
I can honestly say that I love seeing the children playing, interacting, baking, painting, cooking, gardening and creating together within this wonderful, child centred, nurturing space.
It is clear to me that in Steiner Kindergartens the entirety of the child is considered, respected and developed; mind, body and soul. In this age where so much pressure is put on exam results and external achievements what could be more important for the happy development of our children?