Here at Grow With Me, we are most strongly influenced by tenants of Waldorf early education: rhythm, reverence, and repetition. Founded by Rudolph Steiner in 1919 in Germany, the focus of Waldorf philosophy is on developing the whole child as a well-rounded being with a strong, thoughtful foundation.
While our school does bring in many elements of Waldorf, we try to do so while remaining open-minded and not strictly tied to any educational approach, and we are not an officially registered Waldorf school. So what does it look like as we incorporate Waldorf philosophy in our classroom?
*Daily Rhythm and Reverance
Our children have a consistent daily rhythm that unfolds predictably each day and is marked by external cues such as the church bells, the clean-up bell, and songs that signal the next activity. We hold a goodbye circle with parents in the morning and sing a familiar song to ease the transition from home to the classroom, we sing a blessing and light a candle each time we gather around the table to eat snack and lunch, and we sing a song to close the day each afternoon.
The environment of our classroom is pieced together with intention. Our walls are decorated minimally, the lighting is soft and provided by lamps and twinkle lights, we pay close attention to cleanliness and organization, and the toys and supplies provided are mostly composed of natural materials (and many made by American artisans and craftsmen). Wooden dollhouses, handmade dolls filled with stroked wool, naturally dyed play silks, and blocks created from slices of branches are just a few of the items our children come into contact with on a daily basis.
You will find our students beading, weaving, stringing leaves, and molding beeswax. Handwork takes precedence over handwriting in Waldorf early education, though at Grow With Me we do encourage children to foray into writing their own names if they so desire. The thought is that we encourage little ones to develop fine motor and dexterity prior to asking children to form letters, so that when the time comes for them to write, they will be fully equipped.
*Painting and Artwork
A Waldorf approach to art focuses on engaging young creative imaginations rather than prescribed projects with lines and specific directions, though guidelines are sometimes provided. Our class painting day is Thursday and the students often paint on thick watercolor paper with rich, primary watercolors from glass ramekins. Ms. Katy refrains from guessing what children are creating, but instead poses the open-ended question… “tell me about your painting!”
Here we break away from strict Waldorf philosophy a bit; Ms. Katy is an artful storyteller and engages the class with felted props, story stones, and by involving the students in acting roles, however, we do also love our books at Grow With Me. Waldorf dictates a rich storytelling tradition, which Ms. Katy embodies beautifully, but discourages books with printed pictures. As flexible Waldorfers, we find that most of our families are readers, and our children are big fans of books that supplement our curriculum.
*Caring for the Classroom
Our daily rhythm includes chores. Waldorf education emphasizes a home-like environment where all members are responsible for upholding its condition. Students contribute to the meal preparation by chopping and measuring and the cleanliness of the classroom through daily chores. Children are assigned a job each week with this beautiful chore chart, as well as daily chores, such as sweeping, spraying and wiping the table, and dusting. They also participate in serving snack, and are responsible for washing their own dishes afterward.
*Seasonal Nature-focused Curriculum
At Grow With Me, though sometimes we will dabble in early phonetics and counting though casual conversation with the children, we refrain from focusing on these skills in our classroom teachings. Lessons instead emphasize themes like identifying changing seasons in the nature, storytelling, shapes, the five senses, and character traits like kindness and helpfulness. We flow with the changing of the seasons; when the weather is warm in the spring, the children’s energy is so big that we open the outside as part of the playroom and incorporate water play and bubbles. Our snack menu is also seasonal; winters see root vegetables and soups while warmer weather ushers in smoothies and fruit popsicles.
The daily rhythm leaves ample time for unstructured play, and the adults do their best to refrain from interfering and guiding the group dynamic. We aim to intervene to assist with conflict resolution, guide a group whose play has become dangerous or hurtful, or offer a fun activity such as garden chores or a craft. We believe in their big imaginations and in giving them space to expand without adult influence.