A Walk Through the Woods

of Waldorf: A Parent's
Perspective on the Early
Childhood Experience

Link to Article

Nursery and Kindergarten

"Young children view the world with wonder and they give themselves fully to every experience. Waldorf teachers try to keep alive the children's natural sense of wonder and their sense of oneness and unselfconscious participation with the world."

 ~Roberto Trostli, from Rhythms of Learning, published 1998 by Anthroposophical Press

Nursery and Kindergarten Programs

Our young nursery and mixed-age kindergarten classes provide a bridge between home life and school. The Butterfly nursery serves our youngest students, age one to three years of age. Our Golden Forest and Sunflower Kindergarten classes include children from three to six years old. For children between the age of three and four years of age, teachers and parents will share observations and insights to determine a fitting placement. Early Childhood classes begin at 8:15 a.m. and conclude at 12:15 p.m.

Our Butterfly Young Nursery program runs Monday through Wednesday, and includes a one-day (Monday), two-day (Tuesday-Wednesday) or all-three-day option (Monday - Wednesday).

We offer three-day(Monday - Wednesday), four-day (Monday - Thursday ) and five-day (Monday - Friday) Kindergarten programs. The three-day option will be assessed and approved on a case-by-case basis where it is determined to be in the best interests of the young student to be in attendance fewer days per week.

All of our EC students spend a significant portion of the day out of doors, on our campus and in the 100-acre wood that surrounds. New in 2015-16:  Our Golden Forest classroom (also offering a two-day Thursday-Friday option) will be entirely out of doors!

Golden Forest Kindergarten (A Forest Kindergarten Model)

Providing a strong and consistent daily and weekly rhythm that holds the children so that they can feel free to explore their environment in a predictable setting, the Golden Forest class uses the fields and woods as its "home room" and generally spends the entirety of its 4-hour morning outside (the Golden Forest class may spend occasional time inside for festival preparation, visiting other classes, or artistic work tailored for a specific class).  We follow principles of Waldorf early childhood education such as the importance of imaginative play, teaching out of imitation rather than through explanation, creating predictability and stability through rhythm and consistency among the adults, nourishing developing senses such as balance and self-movement and well-being and touch, and valuing the sensory and motor integration so easy to obtain from time spent moving in natural and uneven and varying terrains.  

Familiar aspects of a Waldorf morning manifest in a variety of satisfying ways:  we roast potatoes in the coals of a bonfire and cook tea or rice with a mountaineering stove; various outdoor "rooms" provide the perfect spot for seasonal movement circles, stories, and puppet shows; children's imaginative play blossoms in these same outdoor rooms; we sculpt and create art in nature such as cairns, fairy houses, and functional and artistic designs such spirals; and children tune themselves to qualities of expansion and contraction (loud or soft voice; vigorous or gentle movement) naturally in response to the open or closed terrain.  We are outside in all weather, and experienced teachers guide the morning in ways to keep the children comfortable by seeking warmer or cooler spots and making judicious use of warming huts such as the Little Glass House.  Our generous amount of time outside frees children from any sense of haste or hurry; they have time to receive the benefits of seeing a process begun and completed.  This is Waldorf education that works in harmony with our other early childhood programs and the school as a whole.

Our morning begins no more than a brief walk from the main campus and concludes at the early childhood playground.  We provide children a cubby at school. For children who stay for extended care, their cubby will be close to the extended care room.

Our Extended Care program runs from 12:15 until 5:00 for nursery and kindergarten students that are at least 2-1/2 years old and potty-trained.

For more information about the philosophy of these programs, visit our "Educational Programs/Early Childhood" page.

"I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think that the same is true for human beings. We do not wish to see children precocious, making great strides in their early years like sprouts, producing a soft and perishable timber, but better if they expand slowly at first, as if contending with difficulties, and so are so solidified and perfected. Such trees continue to expand with nearly equal rapidity to extreme old age."

--Henry David Thoreau, as cited by Jack Petrash in Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out

The Forest Kindergarten

The "Forest Kindergarten" is a concept that has gained international acclaim. First boasted from the rich forests of Germany decades ago, the idea of Forest Kindergartens where children spend much to all of their school mornings in the outdoor classroom, has won the attention of many early childhood programs throughout the world. Waldorf schools across the United States are also introducing forest kindergartens which weaves beautifully into a Waldorf Early Childhood methodology. Rachel Kennedy, a teacher at the Hartsbrook Waldorf School (in Hadley, Massachusetts) who is starting an all-outdoor kindergarten has found from her research that the benefits of the Forest Classroom for children include, "full-body movement which establishes essential foundations for learning, rich sensory experiences providing opportunities for full sensory integration and individual adjustment to sensory stimulus, improved cognitive activity, mental acuity, and concentration, a natural environment for teamwork and social learning, health benefits associated with fitness, fresh air and sunshine, joyful participation in learning and increased self-confidence." As our Kindergarten teachers, William Dolde and Dyanne Harshman, have reflected upon their own classes, they find that Kennedy's research rings true.

While our kindergartens have always made ample use of the gorgeous and sacred hundred acres that surround our school, two years ago Dyanne and William made a conscious choice to explore the benefits of more defined and extensive use of the woods. Each class spends all or most of 2 mornings a week in forests and meadows, hiking and working and playing and picnicking to and in various informal outdoor classrooms with names like Grandmother Rock, Sunny Meadow, Fairy House Grove, Story Meadow, Fort Town, and Madrona Meadow. Because we devote these 2 mornings without the need to rush along to another activity, children relax into appreciation and allow the environment to inspire them to new ideas and new physical challenges. We have been impressed with how the children have developed and with our increasing ability to guide the children and provide rich and (relatively) comfortable experiences out in our weather.

To read more about Forest Kindergartens, you'll find an interview with Rachel Kennedy at http://www.masslive.com/living/index.ssf/2014/04/forest_classroom.html.

If parents of the youngest children may wonder how a 3 or 4 year old will fare outside all morning, they might take heart from an excellent and funny and profound fifteen minute video from Scotland entitled "Into the Middle of Nowhere." It provides a glimpse into a play-based outdoor preschool of 3 and 4 year olds. Visit http://aeon.co/film/games-bring-discoveries-for-the-children-playing-and-for-us-too/ to watch this video. Faculty and parents who have seen it have enjoyed it immensely.

Site Created By James F. Roberts IV