PRINCIPLES OF EARLY YEARS EDUCATION
Formal learning, such as reading, writing and arithmetic, does not feature in the Steiner Early Years curriculum in the belief that a child will ultimately learn these skills more effectively if they have had plenty of time and opportunity to develop socially, emotionally and physically first – in a creative, secure, and harmonious environment.
EMPHASIS OF EARLY YEARS EDUCATION
There is a emphasis on the cultivation of good habits in kindergarten, as many pre-academic skills are acquired unconsciously. The foundation skills in literacy and numeracy are laid through an environment rich in hands-on activity and play and where language and communication are enabled through oral traditions of songs and storytelling.
We believe that children thrive on rhythm and repetition in their lives; it promotes a sense of security and self-confidence for them as they become familiar with the daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms, activities and celebrations. For example, we base our week around our snacks, so the children call Monday ‘rice day’ and Thursday ‘bread day’ for example. After creative play, everything is tidied up in its place, so that the children know where to go for it the next day. Very careful consideration is given to the impact of everything in the kindergarten environment upon all the senses of the young child.
Our kindergartens emulate the home environment with a space for cooking, eating and playing/seasonal songs and games and also story time; another comfort-bringer. There are no “hard” corners, no strong colours and all the furniture and toys are made of natural materials. We provide the child’s physical environment indoors and outside with varied and nourishing opportunities for a self-directed learning-experience in touch, balance, lively movement and inward listening. Our morning comprises of ring time, creative play, time in nature, snack time and story time. Both Kindergarten classes run from 8:45 AM -12:45 PM five days a week; After School Care is available from 12:45 PM to 3:00 PM.
Each morning the children join in with a ring time. We sing songs and rhymes, which help the children to develop an ear for rhythm and musical sound, as well as being a strong base for literacy skills, for instance, with tongue twisters. Together we engage in movement activities, including jumping, stepping, balancing, crawling, all of which help to develop the child’s gross motor skills and aid in their physical development. We also do finger games for developing focus and attention, as well as dexterity.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence to show that imaginative play is fundamental to the social, cognitive and emotional development of children. Studies have found that ‘good child players’ build up a strong sense of will, learn to nurture, take responsibility and can empathise.
Therefore, a large part of each morning is spent in the most significant ‘work’ of childhood; self-directed play. Within the room are many materials to spark each child’s imagination – cloths, frames, wooden blocks, stones, shells….. and using these, the children are able together to enter the realm of their creativity. Through play children investigate, explore and discover, coming to an ever deeper understanding of the world around them. They learn to harness and channel their imaginations, the source of all later learning.
As James L. Hymes, Jr., Child Development Specialist, Author so artfully puts it, “Play for young children is not recreation activity… It is not leisure-time activity nor escape activity… It is language time, problem-solving time, it is memory time, planning time, investigating time, it is organization-of-ideas time, when the young child uses his mind and body and his social skills and all his powers in response to the stimuli he has met”.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
Each day, rain, snow or sun, the children enjoy time in the kindergarten garden or, on walk day, in the woods. This connection with the natural world helps children to develop their gross motor skills – balancing, swinging, running and climbing – all help to develop coordination and confidence in the body. The children are able to be in the natural world with a sense of wonder, reverence and constant discovery.
Before we share snack together; the children help to set the table and we all sit together. After lighting a candle and saying a blessing, we enjoy our wholesome snack, which has been prepared by the teachers and children and which is the same every week. This is a time to sit together, to share our stories, to be heard and to listen and to share physical nourishment.
We finish the morning with the teacher telling a story, often a thoughtfully-chosen fairy tale or nature story. For a child, to have a story told to them creates a quiet time where their imagination can be engaged in the words, wisdom and images the story brings without any need for cognitive explanation. We respond to the young child’s love of repetition by sharing the same story, often for up to two weeks.
Contact with parents is seen as paramount, and parents are valued in the ‘community’ that is the kindergarten.
They are invited to attend events, birthdays, festivals and workshops on different aspects of the educational principles and practice. Home visits can be arranged and discussions about the child’s development and care take place regularly.
Our latest Care Inspectorate report gave us a ‘Very Good’ for Quality of Care and Support quoting “Children were cared for in a very relaxed, caring and nurturing environment by staff that showed genuine care for children”.