My thoughts on the value of the 13th year by Caroline Marquardt, High School Teacher,…
For the first three years of their life, a young child’s family is their entire world. As they grow older, their world expands, and their first experience of growing outward from the home is the playgroup and kindergarten – essentially an extension of the home. The playgroup and kindergarten years form the bridge between the home and academic learning in the primary school.
In Waldorf kindergartens children are able to build, exercise and grow their physical bodies in an unhindered and unpressured environment. They play imaginatively, sing, hear stories, bake, garden, do woodwork, dig in the sandpit, cook meals for communal eating, grind grain, climb trees, learn handwork – like sewing, weaving and felting. They draw, paint, and do beeswax modelling.
These are not arbitrary activities that the children do which might hark at a bygone era. This is real work for the children. Through their experiences they learn the process of creating something – for example, making a woven bag. This starts with carding the raw wool, spinning it into yarn, weaving this yarn on a loom, and eventually making a bag. The entire process can take up to two months of diligent hard work.
The same goes for when we plant vegetables in our gardens. The children experience the entire process from preparing the soil, sowing the seeds, watering the shoots, weeding, watching the vegetables grow, harvesting, then finally cooking and eating it at snack time. In this way the children truly have a holistic experience of the world, and come to value and respect the world they live in.
In doing these activities the children are exercising and mastering their fine motor and large motor skills, crossing their mid-line, integrating the left and right sides of their bodies and brain functions, all vital in learning to read and write in the primary school.
One major difference between Waldorf and other kindergartens is that we do not teach reading and writing in the kindergarten. These are taught by the Class One teacher in Primary School. Instead, we develop pre-literacy and numeracy skills through the rich use of storytelling, rhymes, verses, singing and traditional circle games. The children become well acquainted with hearing tales and folklore from many cultures, as well as experiencing an excellent quality of language and speech. Their own speech and language skills advance well, and by the time they are ready to learn to read and write, they are hungry and eager for it.
The children engage in simple mathematical tasks in the kindergarten through sorting things, playing counting games, and by sharing things equally among all the children. All these happen naturally throughout the morning tasks and activities, and are not taught in any kind of formal ‘lesson’.
Another difference is that the children spend two years in the same class with their kindergarten teacher, as 5-year olds in their first year then 6-year olds in their second year. What is interesting is that we have a mixed age group in the kindergarten: half of the class is turning 5 and the other half turning 6 – all in the same class. This makes for a wonderful opportunity for social learning and for the development of emotional intelligence. The younger children learn from the older children how to tie shoe laces, how to share, how to climb trees; and the older ones have the opportunity to care for and show compassion and guide the younger ones.
As a teacher it is much the same as conducting a noisy and busy orchestra! It is such a joy to have the younger children who bring the wonder and magic of imaginative play to the class, and the older ones who are starting to awaken to critical thinking, advanced speech and stories and who have a new mastery of their growing bodies.
The older children love to construct dens, tie ropes into knots and hammocks, devise pulley systems in the tree branches with buckets and ropes. Their eagerness for planning and construction is wonderful to witness. And by the time they are ready for Class 1, the younger ones are ready to step into their shoes and welcome the new children coming up from the playgroup.
We work very strongly with the physical body and the will of the children under the age of 7. We do this by emphasising a strong sense of rhythm to our day, our week, our term and year. Good nutrition, adequate sleep and imaginative play opportunities are also essential, as are physical challenges in the garden: trees to climb, balance beams, swings and monkey bars.
We have a strong awareness of working with the senses in the kindergarten. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education, spoke about 12 senses, but in the kindergarten, we work with the 4 foundational senses: Movement, Touch, Life and Balance. These senses enable the child to be grounded, co-ordinated, agile and strong.
Our curriculum is taken from nature, and we are guided by the seasons. We take great joy in celebrating seasonal festivals in the kindergarten and each term concludes with a festival connecting us to the seasonal rhythm of the earthly and cosmic forces. In a few weeks’ time we shall end our term with a Spring Festival.
Nicole Sparks is a Kindergarten teacher at Michael Oak Waldorf School in Cape Town. Add text here