The Waldorf Kindergarten: The World of the Young Child
Excerpt from WaldorfEarlyChildhood.org
The first seven years of life are a time of tremendous growth and transformation. Having left the spiritual worlds, the child begins the journey of incarnation, and the soul and spirit have to struggle to adapt to the vessel of the body. During the first three years of life, the child faces the monumental challenges of learning to walk, to speak, and to think. In the following years, countless other capacities and skills will need to be developed in order for the child to become independent. The education of the young child is a particularly challenging endeavor, for it demands that parents and teachers penetrate both the spiritual and the practical tasks of leading the child into earth existence. In Foundations of Human Experience, Rudolf Steiner summarized this endeavor:
The task of education, understood in a spiritual sense, is to bring the soul-spirit into harmony with the temporal body. They must be brought into harmony and they must be tuned to one another, because when the child is born into the physical world they do not yet properly fit each other. The task of the teacher is to harmonize these two parts to one another. (p. 39)
The Nature of the Young Child
Although young children are earthly beings, to a certain extent they are still cosmic beings. Living as they do between these two worlds, they need to find a relationship to time. This relationship is developed through the etheric body, which is working on the physical body to make it into a suitable instrument for the child’s later life. The etheric body is a body working through time, and etheric processes are always rhythmical.
Young children respond strongly to rhythm, and they are tremendously helped when there is rhythm and regularity in their lives. Waldorf kindergartens therefore build a strong rhythmic clement into their program. In all Waldorf kindergartens each day has a rhythm. The morning might begin with a period for play and work followed by circle time, consisting of verses, nursery rhymes, songs, and circle games. Next comes a session of outdoor play, and the morning session ends with a nature story or a folk or fairy tale. Each week has its rhythm as well; there is one day for baking, another for painting, a third for crafts, and so on. Seasonal activities such as harvesting grain, planting bulbs, tapping maple trees, or gathering nuts serve to deepen the children’s awareness of the world around them. Seasonal festivals, which celebrate the bounty of the autumn or the advent of spring, foster a connection to the cycle of the year. Through such activities, which are taken up rhythmically, a child’s feeling for the cycles of life and of nature is strengthened. In later years this feeling may sustain a sense of well-being and a sense of connection to the natural world.
Young children also have an intimate connection to their surroundings, and everything they encounter makes a deep impression on them. Because they are so sensitive and receptive, one might conceive of young children as sense organs that perceive the world with their whole being.