Prairie Hill Waldorf School believes that early childhood, from birth to age seven, is a unique period of life that deserves respect, guidance, nurture, and time.
The child’s early education is best served through an active participation in purposeful work that is led by the teacher and includes: cooking, woodworking, sewing, cleaning, and gardening. The creative arts complement this practical work as children paint with watercolors, draw with beeswax crayons, learn songs and poems, and participate in puppetry and simple drama.
The cornerstone of childhood is imaginative, uninterrupted play with open-ended toys made of natural materials which can be continually transformed. Social and relational skills are built as the children move through the day negotiating their free play, practicing table manners, helping one another as needed, and taking an active role in righting their mistakes.
Teachers, serving as models, bring the children the nurturing arts of consistent routines, clear boundaries, bodily care, and daily work and rest. The Early Childhood programs are built around the belief that children thrive in a mixed-age environment with a consistent care provider.
The early childhood program provides a rich language environment. Circle Time builds a love of language as the teacher brings a wide range of poetry, songs and verses in an imaginative theme or story to the children accompanied by suitable gestures and movements. As they sing and dance the child’s capacity for auditory processing, speech articulation and feeling for rhyme and rhythm are strengthened and nourished.
Children gain experiences of ordering, sequencing, adding, subtracting, and dividing by the direct manipulation of objects. Through the practical activities of baking, cooking and doing handwork, the children experience measurement and counting as they watch one step follow another. Circle time offers the opportunity to match rhythmical counting with body movements such as clapping and stepping that help form the basis for learning math later. As children move in space, developing their sense of spatial orientation, the foundation of geometry is laid.
The storytelling curriculum of fairytales and multicultural stories provides, in picture form, a glimpse of far away places and often long ago times. Verses, songs, nature stories and immersion in nature reveal the plants and animals that are part of the young child’s world.
Children naturally experiment with the laws of physics when they engage in play building fulcrums, obstacle courses, pulleys and balance beams. There is chemistry in the dipping of candles or felting of wool as well as in cooking and baking. The children are exposed to botany in their outdoor gardening. Feeding the chickens, finding animal tracks and discovering the homes and habits of the animals outside introduce the children to zoology.
Children color freely with a spectrum of both block and stick beeswax crayons, experiencing large strokes of color as well as line drawing. They paint using the wet-on-wet watercolor technique, exploring the primary colors and how they blend together. Beeswax is used for its pleasant smell, texture and ease in warming. The children use their fingertips to warm the beeswax and begin the process of thinning and modeling.
Young children hear many stories and see a wide variety of puppet and marionette plays. After hearing a story many times, they may even help to enact it with the teacher. As the children play, they create their own simple puppet shows and plays.
There is singing throughout the day and the seasons in support of the development of rhythmic breathing. Songs introduce activities, support the children through transitions, and accompany Circle Time activities. Melodies and rhythms float freely fostering the dreamy nature of the young child. Instruments such as xylophones, drums, and flutes embellish circle time, storytelling and puppetry.
Development of the physical body is fundamental to the young child. Children explore a large range of physical activity through practical daily work such as grinding grain, sawing, kneading and chopping. Outdoor play, such as gardening, swinging, sledding, hiking, climbing, running and exploring the woods, all provide for healthy physical development.
The children engage in handwork projects as modeled by the teacher and learned by way of imitation. Projects include paper crafts, yarn projects, sewing, woodworking, felting, and candle dipping all with an emphasis on the process as opposed to the finished product. Snack preparation (baking, chopping vegetables, and grating) and clean-up (toys, dishes, and laundry) also support fine motor development.
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