What a beautiful group of children we have received this year into our Playgroup. It is a joy to come to school each day and watch the children use the capacity of their will and initiative to work and play and create their own inner world and play it out before us.
Rudolf Steiner says that the young child (0-7 years) lives in their will forces, and the will takes in the world through imitation. Steiner education asks us (as teachers) to attempt to meet this stage of development. And so for the younger Playgroup and Kindergarten child it is equally important what we do and how we do it. It is vital to have an environment that nourishes the senses and thus stimulates healthy movements and play. The sense of life, touch, movement and balance are the four foundation senses which need to be nourished. What are real life activities that nourish the senses? Domestic chores like cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening activities. It is best to do these in front of children so they can imitate work. Another example of a work opportunity is our tidy up time. In our free play nearly every toy and cloth gets used so you can imagine what a mess is the result. And so we begin our tidy up time almost wondering ourselves whether it is possible (but keeping the faith). With a happy song and determination and a little dose of imagination soon all the children are happy little gnomes tidying up their homes.
After 10 minutes some are folding cloths, some straightening cushions, others watching wide eyed waiting to help. And ﬁnally it is done and we call the children to singing time. At times children need a helping hand to get them involved or an imaginative image to inspire cooperation. ‘Come Emma the dolls are tired and want to go to sleep, Oh dear the train driver is in need of helpers’. Imagery can help if a child is stubborn and doesn’t want to do something. Let’s be like a little bunny rabbit and hop to the front door. Singing can help to change a child’s mood from sad to happy. When asking for help, a statement or choice of two things (when they are older) is far more eﬀective in gaining cooperation than giving them a question- would you like to help? For example; I really need help wiping the table before suppertime. Here is a cloth for you. Giving too many questions or choices awakens opposition and can be confusing for a child who is seeking at times the security and direction of the adult and wants to imitate you.
In an article by Susan Howard she says that children ﬁrst need to integrate their vestibular and proprioceptive systems before they learn to read and write. Children integrate their sensory- motor systems through body movements, not through ﬂash cards or watching television. She refers to movements like hopping, skipping, walking climbing and everyday household activities as perfect movement opportunities that build and strengthen neural pathways and support mental development later on. She also says we must give children adequate sleep, healthy rhythms, warmth, rhythmic movements and most importantly our love.
Work is conﬁdence building and empowering for children. It allows them to participate and contribute to their social world. This is a rare thing in an age that is geared towards reward and instant gratiﬁcation. As teachers and parents we must protect this time in childhood, the time where children call transform sticks into wands and still see stars twinkling in one’s eye, when the world is alive and the mud between the toes is a delicious sensation, where work and play are so intertwined and part of each other. And we see the little child’s devotion to both and it inspires us to be more mindful of what we do in their company.
Nan Raubenheimer, Playgroup teacher