Playschool and Kindergarten
The Whistler Waldorf School has a strong Early Years program, with licensed, mixed-age programs in the Little Cedars Room and in the Briar Rose Room. They share the same characteristics that are unique to a developmentally appropriate Waldorf approach to early childhood education.
Work and Play
Real, meaningful work with a purpose gives children something meaningful to imitate. This isn’t just for the outer effect – young children are also able to imitate our inner attitude—the devotion, care, and sense of purpose, focus, and creative spirit of the adult. Through working at the same tasks, expecting the child to do their best, every day, we are helping the child develop their own sense of purpose – their own will.
In a Waldorf Early Years setting, the teachers and children all have lots and lots of “work” to do. There are heaps and heaps to sweep and sweep! We scrub the apples, knead the bread, and stir the porridge to share at snack time. We lay the table, then after our snack, wash the dishes, dry them, and put them away. We launder the dolls clothes and dust the shelves. We make our beds and then carefully fold the blankets away after our midday rest. We dig, dig, dig and rake, rake, rake in the garden – it doesn’t matter if it’s earth or snow, we like to move it around.
Getting ready to go outside is work in itself. Learning to do up zippers, buttons and pop snaps, remembering to put on hats and mittens. These are our jobs, and ones we learn well, so our good habits last the rest of our lives.
Beauty and Art
Waldorf Early Years classrooms are carefully created to be naturally beautiful. It’s not just for show. Everything a young child sees, hears, and touches has an unconscious effect. A clean, orderly, beautiful, quiet setting is essential for him to experience the immediate environment as ensouled and nurturing. We try to use materials from nature wherever possible – pinecones, tree branch building blocks, driftwood, river pebbles, flowing silk play cloths and beeswax all make up our play materials. We experience watercolour painting, drawing, beeswax modelling, music and movement in the classroom – and every child is an artist!
Rhythm and Festivals
We follow a predictable rhythm in both the playschool and the kindergarten: lunch is followed by a story, which is followed by a rest, which is followed by outdoor play. A strong, rhythmic schedule means that the child doesn’t have to worry about what is coming next or what might happen. She can relax and fully let go into imaginative play. Rhythm helps children gain a sense of security and confidence in the world and themselves.
We also observe the rhythms of the year, following the changing of the seasons with our nature tables, and through our crafts, stories, and circle time. Whilst the whole day is moved through song as much as possible, these times represent the truly rich creative and imaginative times of our day.
Bringing even more meaning to our yearly rhythms are the festivals we celebrate: Michaelmas, Martinmas and the Advent Garden, May Fair, and more . . . each festival has a unique character and are the high points of our year; we build up to each festival slowly, with special songs, crafts or snacks, anticipating the festival day to come. Anticipation builds memories and marks the event as special – our festivals are the high point of each season.
The Waldorf Early Years programs are rich in oral literacy. We learn songs and rhymes and finger plays, and tell stories by heart, usually for a couple of weeks, until the children take them into their hearts too. We mostly tell stories from nature, and classic fairy stories from around the world, with vivid imaginative pictures that live in the child’s own imagination.
One of the biggest differences between public schools and Waldorf schools is delaying the formal introduction of early reading and writing until Grade 1. Waldorf philosophy teaches us that true reading readiness is a biological phenomenon, and requires that a child has passed a number of benchmarks of sensory-motor integration—which is an aspect of healthy brain development!
A Waldorf Early Years program focuses on play and sensory experience. We encourage learning where it naturally occurs through our work and play – measuring cups of flour and counting plates when we set the table, developing hand-eye coordination through climbing and play, for example. By building up each child’s will and sense of purpose through work, and love of language and memory through oral literacy, we are preparing the child for the academic learning that comes later, in the grade school.
Little Cedars and Briar Rose
The licensed Whistler Waldorf Little Cedars (ages 3-5) and Briar Rose (ages 5-6) programs are led by qualified ECE professionals.
The early years are a very special, tender time in child development, often the first entry into a social group outside the family for many children. A Waldorf early years classroom emphasizes a calm, homelike environment, with homelike tasks and an unhurried pace.
Our strong rhythm includes an organic hot snack with fruit each morning, plenty of time spent outdoors surrounded by Whistler’s beautiful mountains in play, gardening or going for nature walks, rest time, and lots and lots of work and play! We bake bread from scratch and learn to paint with watercolours every week.
We start and finish every day with undirected free play – the children are free to follow their imaginations. Our daily songs ensure transitions from one activity to the next run smoothly; children recognize what’s coming up next, and music helps them move along. As well as our daily songs, we learn rhymes and stories for all seasons of the year too. This way we connect the changing seasons and passage of time to our everyday life.
The teachers strive to work with joy, reverence, enthusiasm, and love for all their tasks, and most importantly, with a sense of gratitude for all the gifts each child brings.
Home Life: Recommendations for Parents
We encourage plenty of sleep, a healthy diet, and a less is more approach to scheduling for your child. We very strongly recommend that young children don’t have access to screen time, through TV, computers, smart phones or games, allowing children freedom from powerful images that so easily invade self-created imaginations. We also have a policy of character and logo-free clothing and personal belongings. Our Waldorf playschool provides a rare opportunity for your child to experience a space that is totally free of advertising and media: a space for them to truly be themselves.