The early childhood years are a transition between the security of home and the coming grade school years. At this time in life, it is important that young children feel secure in their surroundings. It is this sense of safety that allows them to explore their environment, to let their natural curiosity develop, and to begin the life-long process of engagement with the world.
Young children are filled with wonder. They see beauty and purpose in everything. They are curious about all that comes to meet them. Early childhood teachers create an environment and rhythm in which this natural curiosity and wonder is fostered.
The foundation of the early childhood program is the deep understanding that young children learn primarily through imitation and imagination. It is very important that what children see, hear, and inevitably imitate is worthy of imitation. The teachers themselves, in their attitudes, feelings, and gestures, strive to be worthy of that imitation.
The Early Childhood Environment
The specially trained Waldorf Early Childhood teacher takes great care in creating activities and a warm, homelike setting in which children may blossom. Since young children experience their world primarily through the physical senses, they learn most readily in an environment that nourishes the senses through movement, artistic forms, and a rhythmic daily schedule. The classroom is warm, colorful, cared for, and filled with nature’s beauty and variety—a place where children can let their imaginations roam while feeling reassured and safe.
The Foundation for a Love of Learning
Waldorf education consciously builds a strong foundation during the Early Childhood years for the later intellectual growth of the child. The Early Childhood curriculum lays the foundations for:
- Language Arts: Established through broad and fundamental work in listening and speaking skills, including singing, proper pronunciation, and rhymes. These form the later basis of word families and the comprehension of stories and poems, which also provide vocabulary enrichment.
- Mathematics: Accomplished through imaginative play with simple objects, which provides a concrete basis for abstract manipulation of symbols in grade school. Activities requiring counting provide concrete experience with numbers. In addition, gross motor activity, the graceful movement of Eurythmy (rhythmic movement), balancing, coordination, spatial orientation, and dexterity in fingers and limbs builds an internal framework matching the nature of mathematics.
- Science: The use in imaginative play of natural materials such as cloth and wooden toys as well as shells, rocks, water, and sand stimulate curiosity about, and a familiarity with, the natural world. Seasonal festivities and nature walks foster a meaningful connection with the world outside and lay the groundwork for future scientific studies.
- Artistic Practice: Gained through painting, coloring, music, singing, Eurythmy (movement), and simple dramatizations. The children learn that art is not a separate subject, but is woven naturally into all of life. Artistic practice develops the ability to think creatively, problem-solve, and focus, as well as fostering self-discipline.
- Social Skills: Fostered by providing a safe environment for the children, who are learning to live, work, and play in a group. The sharing of practical activities such as snack preparation, bread baking, clean-up, and plant care starts the child on the path toward personal responsibility, the ability to cooperate, and respect for others.
Good Work Habits are formed. Children must put things away in the same place after using them, and are encouraged to complete tasks, working within the gentle structure provided by daily rhythms and the larger rhythms of the week, month, and year.