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.
"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.