In this secure and intimate environment, the children learn about themselves and their world. Their days are filled with artistic and practical work , imaginative play and fairy tales, puppetry and music, circle games and healthy outdoor play.
Toys are made from nature’s gifts: wood, sea shells, stones, pine cones, lamb’s wool. The simpler the toys the more active can the children’s imagination be – the ground is better prepared for a fertile mind.
Every child imitates his or her teacher and deeply absorbs the environment. Unconscious imitation is the dominant mode of learning for the pre-school child – this is the child’s natural way of learning. Therefore, great care is taken to provide a welcoming environment that is warm and beautiful, and where quality rather than quantity is the keyword.
Teachers try to ensure that actions seen by the child are permeated with logic and purpose. In this way, rather than with words, the child’s whole being is imbued with order and harmony, developing in him or her a sense of security.
Co-ordination and well-developed senses are essential for intellectual development. Children of this age wish to test their senses, particularly the sense of balance and movement. They love to be on a see-saw, a narrow ledge or up a tree. Wooden toys have been especially designed to enhance a natural sense for form and touch.
Hands need to be creatively occupied. Nimble fingers tie, twist, braid and model. Watercolour paintings and modelling in beeswax are group activities which enrich and educate. Music becomes both doing and listening. Rhythm is experienced in eurythmy, in games and in the whole ordering of the day. Singing plays a central part in the life of the child.
Formal intellectual schooling is purposely excluded as this is considered to be inappropriate for this stage of the child’s development.
Classes and Curriculum
Overview of the 3-4 year old child
At the age of three a child learns primarily through imitation. He experiences the world predominantly through his senses, and not through his intellect. His consciousness is still dreaming, which is what gives the young child that spontaneous and innocent quality of childhood.
The Playgroup teacher strives to create a warm, loving, safe space in which the child feels embraced and held. As a result, a Playgroup teacher aims to be worthy of imitation, with warmth and open-heartedness. The three to four year old child is often coming into the Playgroup with not much experience other than their home one, and with not much experience of being entrusted into the care of an alternative caregiver. Hence the Playgroup teacher and her assistant work hard at establishing an environment that is known and safe. They do this through establishing an unswerving rhythm and routine, which serves to hold and guide the children.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
The three-year-old is still fairly new in her physical body, but with an enormous capacity to learn through imitation and with the will and enthusiasm to undertake new physical challenges. At this stage the child is learning new physical skills through play. In the content of their play, children almost always imitate what they have observed of the adults in their environment. Through imitation, children learn to walk and speak.
Emotionally, the-three-year old, when faced with being in a Playgroup setting, is facing the challenge of becoming a social being. Initially he finds it difficult to share and to play with his classmates, but this slowly changes as he gets used to the rhythm and routine within which he is firmly held, and with gentle guidance from the teacher and her assistant.
Our adult consciousness has lost the connection with what goes on in the dreamy depths of the child’s soul. Therefore it is a playgroup teacher’s constant striving to become more conscious of the internal world which the young child inhabits. Once again, being worthy of imitation as an adult is the life work of any adult involved with children, be they a teacher or parent.
Playgroup’s curriculum is a simple one, with the main aim being to establish a secure framework in which the child can learn to be part of a group, learning to play imaginatively through imitation. In the Playgroup the day consists of ‘in breathing’ and ‘out breathing’ activities. Initially, in the first term, the teacher and her assistant focus on establishing the rhythm and routine, and this becomes the safe embrace which allows the child to feel safe enough to start exploring and doing, tentatively socialising and playing.
The child learns to be part of a group, by being patient, waiting for a turn, being mindful of those not there that day, being part of a quiet space during painting, and a multitude of other skills that will serve them well in life.
Parents can support their Playgroup child at home by creating their own rhythm and routine and having clear boundaries. The young child learns through imitation, and loves to imitate the everyday tasks that we as adults do, so invite him into your world, let him sweep the floor alongside you, mix the cake batter, clean the bath, wash the vegetables, etc. There is no distinction in the young child’s mind between work and play, it is all new and exciting and satisfies the enormous creative energy he has within, thus training the will to do – and do he will, with great satisfaction and joy!
Overview of the 4 – 6 year old child
Upon entering Kindergarten the young child begins the steady journey towards the pinnacle of her early childhood years – a journey that promises great challenges, dynamic changes and exquisite blossoms born upon the firm foundations so courageously established in her earlier years. As such it enfolds a wide range of mixed experiences where the delight in increasing ability subsides into a sudden devastating sense of loss and then finally resurfaces in joyful triumph of new horizons sighted and faculties awakened.
Physical, emotional, spiritual
The four year old child continues to sculpt and penetrate her growing body. She has come a long way in learning how to co-ordinate its myriad functions, but is not yet fully confident in moving within it and maintaining balance therein. She basks in the glory of emotional innocence and a dreamy consciousness that lifts her up onto the magnificent wings of her creative fantasy and bears her aloft into the surrounding world of nature with which she feels totally at one. The great world outside of her flows into her being without any restraint and through a process of imitation she recreates all she has perceived through lively play. Meaning of the world dawns slowly within as she processes and assimilates throughout her ongoing spontaneous play.
The five year old child steadily gains mastery over her little body and enjoys finer co-ordination of her large and fine motor skills. She begins to move out of her natural self-centredness and begins to delight in the founding of a more private and intimate relationship with a special friend. However her bliss is soon pierced by the pain of beginning to lose her former dream-like consciousness and being plunged into the unfamiliar waters of rising intellectual cognitive functioning. With unsteady steps she crosses the bridge from dream-like imitative learning to awakened inner picture and concept forming. A child ‘in the crossing’ feels alone and abandoned and can present with atypical, difficult behaviour. This period in her life is commonly called the five-and-a-half-year-old crisis and generally disappears as she approaches turning six years old.
The six year old child steps out triumphantly onto new planes of physical, emotional and spiritual being. Her childish roundness has disappeared and there is a lengthening in her limbs, torso and facial features. She exalts in her new capacities for agile movement, objective emotional self-management, independent, abstract thinking and memory.
The most important consideration in guiding this young child into life is the priority her bodily growth takes over all other areas of development. Upon this bodily foundation, moral and ethical values, emotional stability and dynamic intellectual functioning will unfold.
The vital life forces that penetrate, sculpt and grow the Kindergarten child’s body are the very same forces that will withdraw from her bodily organization at the change of teeth and make themselves available for completely new areas of functioning: inner picturing, concept forming and memory. However, whilst they are deeply involved in moulding and developing the physical/organic being of the child, the Kindergarten provides an environment that matches and supports the rhythmical nature of their functioning. Every aspect of the Kindergarten incorporates rhythm, routine and repetition into it. The greatest source of support to this task lies in the sublime rhythmical and cyclical nature of the seasons. To this end we turn to Nature and her seasons for inspiration, curriculum content and rhythmical organisation.
Parents can do a great deal for their child through supporting and nurturing the life processes that work within their child’s growing physical body. Through establishing and diligently adhering to definite rhythms and routines in the home life; through providing wholesome nutrition; through not arresting their child’s attention away from its natural dream consciousness by insistent chatter, questions, offering of choices, invasion by electronic media, offering endless and copious amounts of information and the imposition of intellectual reasoning – the child may remain peacefully connected to her task of laying down her bodily foundation so vital for her future destiny, both in school and life in general.
“Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom.”
“For every one step that you take in the pursuit of higher knowledge, take three steps in the perfection of your own character.”
“Activities demanding manual and bodily skill, such as knitting, leads to the enhancement of the faculty of judgement.”