Many Waldorf Early Childhood parents all over the world find themselves with little ones at home. The good news is that Waldorf early childhood students are already primed for independent play and learning after having spent 6 months at school. They are also well-practiced in doing meaningful work at school, which is a skill easily transferred to home life.
“Waldorf children will know what to do. Whatever they have in their lives will come to life in their play!”
So how do parents help Pre-K and Kindergarten students carry on with the rich, open-ended play and work opportunities now that they’re at home? We posed this question to Patricia Cornelius, Early Childhood Teacher and Faculty Chair at The Waldorf School of Philadelphia, and she told us about a few, very simple things parents can do to keep their young children learning at home.
Patricia told us that one key to optimizing learning through play is the selection of materials available in the home. In the Waldorf classroom, priming play is done through unformed materials that let the child’s imagination and creativity thrive.
Patricia says, “Unformed materials move in and out of a child’s imagination. They engage them in different ways, they can be anything, but they never tire of them and can use them every day.”
She suggests giving Waldorf students item such as:
- Flat sheets or pieces of cloth of varying sizes
- Clothespins or clips
- Pieces of rope, string and cord
- Items from outside such as branches and stones
- Practical real-life items like pots, pans, utensils
- Cardboard Boxes of varying sizes
- Use of chairs, couch cushions and tables
Patricia says, “The children of Waldorf early childhood will know how to play with these things. They may need a little help occasionally, but if you give them those things they’ll know what to do. Whatever they have in their lives will come to life in their play!”
Outdoor play, each day, is vital for young children. While indoor play nourishes creativity, imagination and fine motor skills, outdoor time provides developmentally essential sensory experiences and large motor movements that cannot always be accomplished indoors. Children this age need to move in all variety of ways — running, jumping, climbing, spinning and more.
Again, good news abounds as Waldorf early childhood students know how to be outside in all weather. The only requirement is to properly dress the child for the existing outdoor conditions. They will go out in the pouring rain and they will love it!
Patricia acknowledged that for some without backyards, this part of the day will be challenging. She suggested venturing out for green space-time during hours when others will not dominate local parks.
“Wherever you can go, try to find a space that allows running, rolling, touching and playing with things in nature. Waldorf children know how to do this without prompting. You need only provide the space and time for them to find ways to play. They’ve been doing this in their school every day.”
Waldorf students do chores and meaningful work in their classrooms each day. This includes our youngest students because, as Patricia tells us, “Work builds their sense of accomplishment and self-esteem and confidence. They can feel a sense of self-worth when they contribute to the classroom or family unit. And this work provides learning opportunities.”
As an example, when a child is setting a table they are learning about and replicating a pattern, which helps children make predictions and logical connections that build reasoning skills. Setting the table will also teach them counting as they count out the silverware, cups and plates for each family member. Soon they will do it without the pattern to copy.
Here are some other things children can do, or help you to do, to engage in meaningful work:
- Chopping vegetables and fruit
- Carrying and sorting laundry
- Folding square items like napkins
- Sweeping with a broom
- Washing and drying dishes
- Cooking and baking for snacks and meals
- Pet care such as feeding, training or playtime
- Helping in the yard with weeding, gardening and other projects
Rhythm of the Day
Every day in Waldorf Early Childhood is set to a predictable rhythm for the sake of the children.
Keeping a routine for young children helps them feel secure so that they can flourish. But when you’re working from home with children of different ages, mimicking an Early Childhood classroom day would be difficult if not impossible.
This is why Patricia explains the intention behind the rhythms so that parents can learn to honor rhythm in a much simpler way.
“It’s more about establishing a time to be awake, a time to be led in an activity by an adult and a time for the children not to be held to any structure. Waldorf educators think of this in terms of breath — an inhale and an exhale for children. The inhale draws them in and holds them to a task such as drawing, making snacks and listening to a story. The exhale lets them go to be outside, engage in free play indoors, and use their imaginations. The key is to never hold a child too long in either type of work.”
Patricia hopes that families can think of their youngest children’s day in this way to help establish a loose pattern of ebb and flow that can also blend with their other necessary family routines.
A sense of community care and love is foundational for all of us, but especially young children. We have all had our extended school community physically interrupted, but we have also had our family community deepened and it has great potential to be enriched.
Patricia says, “This is a wonderful time to revitalize and re-establish your family community.
Take advantage of this time together to bond in ways you didn’t have time to do before. Connect with one another through shared experience and knowledge.”
Soon enough, we will all be together again in our thriving extended community, where we can support one another again in person. Until then, know we’re all connected in spirit.