In winter 2001, I walked into a kindergarten room during a Holiday Faire at the Peninsula Waldorf School in Los Altos, Calif., and was completely captivated by the warmth and beauty of the classroom environment.
In my 10-plus years of experience in the world of early childhood education, I have, among other things, taught Head Start, directed a preschool, taught in private preschools in three states, taught kindergarten in public schools, nannied for four families, and attended countless conferences, workshops and trainings. In all of this experience, surely I had seen or heard everything about child development theories and the varying approaches and curriculum based on them, from Piaget to Multiple Intelligences to Reggio Emilio to Emergent Literacy. Surely, I had heard every angle.
What I did not know at the time was that the fastest-growing and largest independent school movement in the world had something completely different to offer to education and my understanding of early childhood. Ever since that moment, I have been studying Waldorf Education and the theory of human development that supports it. And now, five years later, I have opened a small Waldorf-inspired preschool and am hoping to bring Waldorf to the Rockford area.
So, what is it that captivated me? A young child is greatly influenced by his environment, and the Waldorf kindergarten strives to surround the children with beauty and warmth, providing simple, natural playthings, mainly objects found in nature such as stones, shells, wooden blocks, pinecones, etc. This cultivates the imagination and creativity of the child.
Just standing in an empty kindergarten room, one can feel the consciousness the teachers have put forth to create such a magical environment. There is an overwhelming sense of Why couldnt I have gone to school here? that so many visitors to Waldorf schools comment on.
Play in the Waldorf kindergarten is a sacred thing, and it is the teachers goal to provide an environment that will allow natural learning through creative play to flourish, knowingly planting the seed for original, productive thinking later in adult life.
The Waldorf kindergarten seeks to honor and protect the magic and wonder of childhood while encouraging imagination and creativity through constructive free play. Waldorf recognizes that creative thinking, imaginative play and socialization are the real foundation for later academic success.
Rhythm is also very important to the development of the young child, and the activities in the Waldorf kindergarten reflect daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms. Some of these activities may be storytelling, puppetry, bread baking, cleaning, watercolor painting or beeswax modeling. Songs and finger-plays, as well as larger movement activities, are done during the regular circle time. Stories, fairytales, songs and rhymes are used to celebrate the natural world and the seasonal festivals. The Waldorf kindergartens three Rs are Reverence (for others and the world around us), Repetition and Rhythm.
What makes Waldorf Education unique? How is this theory of child development so different from the mainstream world of early childhood? Using a (holistic) comprehensive approach, Waldorf education addresses the development of the whole human being in a three-fold manner: head (thinking), hands (willing) and heart (feeling). It is an integrated approach, where the purpose of education is not merely to instill knowledge, which can be coldly abstract and destructive when separated from human values, and a feeling for the humanity of others.
This is what had been missing from my experience of the young child. Waldorf seemed to complete the picture of healthy human development in a way no other theory or curriculum had.
So, what is the success of Waldorf Education?
Waldorf graduates have consistently tested higher than that of graduates of public schools and have routinely gone on to be accepted by universities such as Harvard, Stanford and the University of California. According to the AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools in North America) Web site: SAT scores in Waldorf high schools range from average, to above average, to outstanding, to the National Merit Scholar category. But more importantly, Waldorf graduates are leading lives of leadership, engaged in their communities, and working toward making positive change for society and our earth.
Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, philosopher, artist and scholar, started Waldorf Education in Germany in 1919 while working out of an impulse for cultural renewal. Today, Waldorf education is represented in more than 100 schools in 60 countries worldwide. There are 10 Waldorf initiatives in the greater Chicago area: a teachers college, four schools, three kindergartens and two day care centers. Waldorf methods are now being undertaken by a growing number of home-schooling families and public charter and magnet schools throughout the U.S. And now, The Happy Kingdom brings a Waldorf-inspired program to the Rockford community.
For more information about The Happy Kingdom and its program offerings, contact Kelly Riney at 262-7572 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the May 17-23, 2006, issue