‘What can be accomplished with forces available only at a later time should never be crammed into an earlier stage, unless one is prepared to damage the physical organism”
The Santa Cruz Waldorf School has three kindergarten classes. Empire Grade serves children from 4 years 9 months to 6 years of age The Poplar Street Kinderhouse serves children from 3 years until grade school entrance. Each group meets each day of the week during the SCWS year in a program that runs from 8:30am to 1pm, with aftercare an option until 5:00pm on the Empire Grade campus. Each of the kindergartens has one lead teacher and an assistant.
Early Childhood Development
We honor the special developmental process of preschool and kindergarten age and hold off on more formal academics until the child exhibits readiness, especially physical signs of readiness, for academic and intellectual activities. Waldorf kindergarten allows children to come to self-consciousness at their own pace, building a solid foundation of physical health.
Teaching the Young Child
The young child is trying to grasp the world around them and their primary mode of learning is imitation. Actions speak louder than words to the young child, so teachers carefully choose the activities they wish to model for the children, and how they speak in the children's environment. A key element is in creating situations where the children can learn out of their own initiative and doing. Rather than instructing, the teacher guides the children by their own deeds and gestures as much as is possible. Through movement, crafts, and domestic activities, the child is helped in taking hold of his/her body and learning to use it more skillfully.
Likewise, teachers consciously model social skills essential to working together as a group. Problem solving skills are developed through taking advantage of opportunities to solve problems with the guidance of the teacher. Safety, both physical and emotional, is a priority. Hurtful words and actions are not tolerated.
The Kindergarten Environment
In our Kindergartens, the young child’s senses are surrounded by beauty and order in small, home-like rooms and enclosed backyard gardens. The early childhood classroom is crafted to nurture the children and provide them with a sense of security. The teacher chooses the items that are present in the room with great attention to detail. Simple toys and natural materials are provided for cultivating imagination. The children help with domestic activities that are required for the kindergarten to run each day, such as sweeping, washing tables and dishes, setting up chairs, and taking out the compost. The child feels a sense of self-worth and mastery by doing meaningful work. The intention is to immerse the children in the processes of life to give them a holistic experience of kindergarten life as well as to offset the rampant materialism of our culture.
Daily outdoor play, rain or shine, immerses the child in the natural world and its changing elements. Our yards are alive with an abundance of plant and animal life that surroundes and surprises the children.
The Kindergartens follow a consistent daily schedule. Within this schedule, there is a rhythmic movement between individual and group activities, some of which are focused and some of which are less directed. Children feel safe and secure in the consistent daily rhythm. Teachers schedule a significant portion of each day for indoor and outdoor free creative play. This gives the children plenty of time to unfold and exercise their powers of imagination, as well as develop social and motor skills. Play is the vehicle by which the child grasps the world.
Children do meaningful work indoors (sweeping, mending, cleaning) as well as outdoors in the the yard and garden (pruning, weeding, planting, composting, harvesting). The adults offer the children something 'real' to imitate and the children either participate directly in the activities, or through watching learn how it is done.
Children develop their fine and gross motor skills during the daily ring time. Reciting poems and singing songs accompanied by movement nurtures the imagination and the soul of the child. Through the particular poems and songs brought to ring time, the relationship to nature and the cycle of seasons is strengthened. Singing is a key part of ring time, allowing an opportunity to use the voice in a musical way. The eurythmy teacher gives the students a weekly lesson during ring time.
Daily story time fosters the development of the children's imagination, listening skills and vocabulary. It also exercises the child’s capacity for mental picturing, a significant element of reading comprehension. The teacher tells (rather than reads) the same fairy or nursery tale for one to four weeks; allowing the children to fully take in the story, which then sometimes is expressed in their play. Story time contributes to a foundation of strong memory capacity in the grade school years.
Artistic activities such as watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, coloring, sewing, woodworking, and seasonal crafts are also woven into the rhythm of the kindergarten. The children develop small motor skills and express their imagination during these activities.
Preparing the food is an integral part of the program, giving the children an opportunity to develop fine motor and culinary skills, as well as an awareness that the food that appears on the table is a result of many processes in which the children can be involved, again strengthening the children’s relationship to the natural world. At the Poplar Kinderhouse the children share a snack and a communal lunch together. At the Empire Grade Kindergartens, children prepare snacks and do guided cooking projects, and they bring their own lunch to school.
The Santa Cruz Waldorf Kindergartens create a solid foundation
of skills, imagination, and will.
All of the academic work they do in later years will build upon this foundation.
Language arts are brought through the speaking and singing of the teacher. The young child learns by imitation, so the kindergarten teachers give attention to the example of their own enunciation and articulation.
Through listening to stories, the children develop listening comprehension, build vocabulary and practice following a sequential story line. Mental picturing is a foundation for later reading comprehension. Story also brings grammar and syntax to the children which they can imitate.
The daily repetition of story and Ringtime helps the children take the words and images in and make it their own. Repetition is important for neurological development and strengthens the developing memory capacities of the child.
The recitation of poems, verses and nursery rhymes helps the children develop speech articulation and a feeling for rhyme and alliteration. Finger games develop articulation in the fingers which is connected to speech articulation.
The teacher is an example of courtesy (please and thank you, for example) and guides the children to the use of ‘kind words’ with each other.
The eurythmy teacher gives a lesson once a week. Various counting activities are sometimes included, from finger movements to whole body activities.
Experience of foreign languages is brought through songs and poems, which are spoken and sung at ringtime, rest time and graces before meals.
The children experience counting, sorting, adding, subtracting, sequencing, and dividing as they collect toys, take things out of baskets, set up houses, set up chairs for storytime or set the table. These activities are part of the kindergarten day through hands-on manipulation of objects during free play and the domestic activities the children participate in. Simple finger plays and counting rhymes are sometimes done at circle time and feed the child’s natural interest in the world of numbers. Games include counting and counting down. There are many jumping rope songs and poems that bring math to the children in an experiential manner. Children gain an experience of the concept of measurement through cooking and water play. The folding of cloths gives an bodily experience of division. In many ways the chidren have experiences that, while not intellectual in presentation, are building a natural foundation for the study of mathematics.
In early childhood, the task is to keep the children's natural sense of wonder and reverence alive. The children's interest in the world around them is the foundation for later scientific study. During free play, both indoors and out, the children are given ample opportunity to explore, manipulate and observe their environment directly. Through their play, they experience such things as the elements of nature, weather, growth, gravity, biology, mechanics, etc. These experiences are also reinforced through stories and circle activities.
In Kindergarten the fine arts are integrated into the daily and weekly rhythms of the group. The children do wet-on-wet watercolor painting on Mondays, having the three primary colors of paint with the other colors arising out of the blending of the primaries. Through their own experimentation the children take in experiences of colors and movement and they also learn to care for the materials properly. The children also have regular opportunities to color with crayons, model with beeswax, and work with wood. The emphasis in bringing these activities is the process involved rather than the product resulting.
In Kindergarten, the musical experience for the children consists primarily of singing. Most songs are pentatonic to align with the dream-like nature of the young child. The songs are sung in unison, not harmony nor rounds. Children learn the songs by imitation of the teacher at Ring Time and various transition times. Rather than instructing the children to switch activities, a song is used. Young children are open to the embracing quality of music and song helps to lead them into the desired activity. The teacher sometimes plays the kinderharp during rest time. Various percussion and pentatonic instruments are available for use by the children in their play.
The Bridge Festival
Picture this: a garden with flowers all around. It is a warm morning, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. Birds are singing. A stream flows down a gentle hill and there is a small bridge across it. There are many parents, grandparents and friends sitting in a large circle, all looking on with smiles and tears. In the center of the circle sit all the kindergarten children and teachers. Across the stream is the new first grade teacher. The children sing and then a story is told. The story tells of an oldest child who begins to wonder what lies outside the palace walls. The wise king and queen suggest that several important items be gathered for the journey, and that a guide would be waiting outside the gate to lead the way into the world.
Then, one by one, each child ready for first grade is called by name, stands up, bids goodbye to her teacher and steps across the bridge to be welcomed by her new teacher. The kindergarten teacher has shepherded her for her life in the garden of paradise, within the world of home and garden. Now she is ready for a guide to help her explore the wider world. The new first graders are led off for a short time alone with their new teacher, and the younger children who will remain in kindergarten are acknowledged as they will now be the older and experienced kindergartners in the fall. Sometimes the new first grade teacher is unable to attend the ceremony so a symbolic stand–in participates. And some children will move on to other schools, yet they also are part of our ceremony.
This is our kindergarten end–of–year festival. It is a rite of passage from one phase of childhood to the next. Perhaps it can be called the Bridge Ceremony, but please do not name it “Kindergarten Graduation” since all participate yet not all move on to first grade. Rituals celebrating transition between phases of development are not well attended to in our culture. At the Santa Cruz Waldorf School, the transition from kindergarten to the grade school is made into a ritual rite of passage. It signifies the transition from a sort of Garden of Eden to an exploration of the world around. It signifies the transition from a group soul experience to a more self-conscious individual. The children for the first time are called on to stand up and be named in front of all present as part of the ceremony. The new first graders are “handed over” by their kindergarten teacher to the teacher who will guide them through the next phase of life.
This beautiful and heartwarming festival is the culmination of the kindergarten year. In a simple yet profound way, all present witness this crossing of the bridge out of early childhood. This is a special rite of passage for all participants.
1st Grade Readiness
The question of first grade readiness is one of ripening. We want to see the children blossom at one stage before they move on to the next. It is a wonderful sight when a child in nearly bursting through the gateway to first grade, rather than being dragged along throughout their grade school years. In the soil of a nurturing early years environment, the children thrive and blossom, and create the foundation for healthy and active thinking their life long. At the Santa Cruz Waldorf School many children receive the gift of a second year in kindergarten. There is no stigma attached because so many have this experience.
Children who turn six years old by June 1st are considered for first grade which will begin the following September. It would be considered an exception for a child turning 6 after June 1st to be accepted into first grade. However, it is recognized that each child develops and matures at their own rate. A child's chronological age is therefore only one of the factors used to determine readiness for first grade.
Waldorf kindergarten has been the biggest blessing for our family this year. Our daughter has had an enormous transformation in her behavior, thanks to the dedication and experience of Joan and Edisione.
Joan finds the best in every child, and through her loving guidance, helps the children know their capabilities for meaningful work, and joyful play. She is very sensitive to the needs of each child, and skilled at helping parents carry forth the work of bringing out the best in our children.
Each kindergarten child is assessed in several developmental areas including large and small motor skill development, language development, and social/emotional behavior. Academic readiness is a factor, as is the child's being a match for the group of other children going on to first grade. These kindergarten assessments are based on the teacher's observations of activities in the group setting.
The kindergarten teachers will make a recommendation to the First Grade Acceptance Committee, which is comprised of several grades teachers and kindergarten teachers. If there is still a question as to a particular child's readiness for first grade, further evaluation will be recommended. The final decision for admission into first grade is the responsibility of the First Grade Acceptance Committee. Questions about a particular child's grade placement decision can be brought to members of that committee for review. The first grade teacher and his or her mentor will do individual assessments of the students during the summer along with conducting parent interviews.