Creative play is a cornerstone of the child’s experience in a Waldorf early childhood classroom. Some children will use furniture and equipment to create all manner of structures and vehicles while others might be very focused on grinding whole grain flour for the weekly bread baking. Still other children might be acting out the story or puppet play that was presented by the teachers the previous week. When playtime comes to an end, everyone helps return all the materials to their places, restoring quiet order out of what had been dynamic chaos.
Children in the Charlottesville Waldorf School early childhood program spend a lot of time in nature, whether it’s on our playgrounds, on walks throughout our large campus, or during adventures in our woodland acres. This time outside, well-outfitted in any and all weather, not only gives the children the time and space to play in myriad imaginative ways, it also develops a deep connection for them to the natural world. They help to tend the gardens, they find treasures among the trees and bushes, they watch the birds soaring over the treetops, they examine the little creatures that flutter and creep around the grounds, and they notice the subtle and delightful changes that transform their play spaces as the seasons cycle through the year.
Shells, tree stumps, wooden dishes, silk and cotton scarves, fuzzy wool, feathers, and pine cones—the toys in our nursery, preschool, and kindergarten classes are all made from natural materials, some of which come straight from the woods or fields. Young children live in their senses, and nothing feeds the senses better than nature. A pinecone smells and feels different from a seashell — experiencing those differences is the very foundation of science. Even the art supplies are made from natural materials. e.g., beeswax crayons, natural wool fleece, and naturally pigmented paints. The children’s work is purposeful and valued, not simply busy work, and so we supply them with high quality materials.
Waldorf early childhood teachers lovingly create an environment that embodies the warmth and activity of an inviting and secure home. The teachers take up the work of the classroom with purpose and joy, including the children whenever possible. The children love to help to prepare the nutritious snack, sweep, set the table, fold the towels—all meaningful work, necessary for the class to function. Work is presented not as a chore, but as a willing gift of love in which everyone participates.
Story time is a very special moment in the Waldorf classroom. The children sit quietly and listen to a story told—not read—by their teacher. The teacher speaks clearly and thoughtfully, seeking not only to convey to the children the beauty of the spoken word but also to spark their ability to form internal images from the words they hear. Although puppets or marionettes might be added, the same story is told for several days or weeks so that the children may take it in deeply, wrapping it up in their imagination.
Children flourish when they don’t have to be concerned about what might happen next. Waldorf teachers take this burden from them by providing carefully planned daily, weekly, and seasonal rhythms. Each weekday features its own particular activity and snack food. Seasonal celebrations– harvest, winter, spring–lead the children through the year, and each has its own colors, foods, songs, and traditions.
The half-day program includes a mid-morning snack, prepared in the classroom and often following a set schedule and using seasonal ingredients. Half-day students are picked up at noon, before lunchtime.
For those children requiring extended care, lunch, nap and aftercare will be offered. Following nap, children will have an afternoon snack followed by playtime both indoors and outdoors weather permitting.
Sample Daily Rhythm: half-day program
8:00 – Outdoor playtime
8:30 – Greeting circle and artistic activity
9:00 – Creative Play
9:45 – Clean up
10:00 – Circle
10:15 – Snack and rest
11:00 – Outside play
11:45 – Story
12:00 – Half-day program dismissal/full-day program Lunchtime
Sample Daily Rhythm: full-day program
12:00 – Lunch and outside play
1:15 – Transition to nap
1:30 – Nap
2:30 – Nap ends/Dismissal/Transition to aftercare
5:30 – Aftercare ends