by Chandra Johnson, Early Childhood Educator at the Waldorf School of Tacoma
How can we, as parents and educators, support the whole health of today’s children in an over-stimulating, overwhelming, and hectic world? The answer is both complex and simple at the same time. We must provide a healthy rhythm, give proper boundaries, and ensure they have sufficient rest. We must also supply warmth and comfort, allow time for imaginative outdoor play, limit media exposure and, of course, provide proper nutrition. These are the essentials for supporting our children’s well-being.
In a Waldorf classroom, this is done strategically and carefully. The early years are crucial to a child’s development in order to properly prepare them for the future. Each student is taught social and emotional skills such as learning how to feel confident and comfortable with his or her body. They learn how to function in a group and how to navigate the world through movement and balance. Throughout those lessons, they are developing fine and large motor skills such as sensory integration and hand-eye coordination. They develop an understanding of their place in the world as they learn about nature and the environment. All of this provides a foundation for proper brain development which is necessary for academic excellence and success.
Is there such a thing as a difficult child? Or are they telling us they need less of something – or perhaps more of something else? Every exhibited behavior is telling us something of importance. It is our goal to identify and relieve any hindrances to their self expression and to set them up for optimal development. Providing a healthy rhythm supports that goal.
Let’s take a glimpse into the rhythm of a Waldorf early childhood classroom.
Our day may begin either outside or inside. When we start outside, the fresh morning air allows the children to settle in, especially if they may have started with a hectic or busy morning. Because we ensure they are dressed properly and feel warm, they are able to focus solely on playtime without a thought about being cold, wet or uncomfortable. They dig, make mud pies and play imaginatively which sets the mood for the day. If we begin inside, the aroma of fresh, organic, morning meals being prepared will immediately bring calmness and familiarity to the child. The are invited to help prepare meals by kneading dough on bread day or cutting vegetables on soup day.
The children then meet in “circle.” This is the time when everyone comes together to meet each other and greet the day. We teach the children specific movements that are designed to connect brain pathways, develop listening and imitative skills as well as enhancing sequencing language, memory and fine and large motor skills – all in an imaginative way.
Next is a morning walk, which is a restful time for the mind. It enhances their metabolism, rhythmic system, and muscles. This also allows them to recognize seasonal changes. Learning the rhythms of the seasons and nature provides security, balance, and form for the child which allows their abilities to unfold naturally. We then enjoy a mid-morning meal together which is high in healthy fats, whole grains, and organic vegetables.
Throughout it all there is a flow of “in” breath and “out” breath designed to nurture the child. When we do something that is active and stimulating, which is the “out,” we will then bring them inward for a calm or creative activity which provides balance, sturdiness, and encourages a sense of self care. The children then have a rest, participate in creative free play, such as beeswax modeling, painting, or other crafts and then relax into story time.
Supporting the whole health of the child takes time, dedication, and support. We watch the seeds that have been planted, bloom as they grow into productive and balanced citizens of the world. They will be prepared to problem solve, meeting the world confidently, creatively, and responsibly with respect towards themselves, the environment and their community.
Chandra Johnson is a preschool teacher at the Tacoma Waldorf School, where she was introduced to the possibilities of how one can embrace, grow, and enlighten each child through education. Chandra graduated from Tacoma Community College with
an Associates in Science and Arts, then earned her Waldorf Teacher Training Certificate from Sound Circle Teacher Training in Seattle. Visit tacomawaldorf.org for more information.