The kindergarten is the beginning of the journey of school. Providing the basis for future health, a sturdy will, a lively social sense, a rich imagination and above all, a warm engagement with the kindergarten teacher, the kindergarten surroundings give confidence that the world is good and true, and encourages the child to form a strong inner life.
Our kindergarten is warm and inviting. Care is taken with colours – warm, gentle pink walls and natural materials, handmade furniture and equipment are chosen with attention to both beauty and practicality. Play things are often collected from the natural world – for example, shells, nuts, pine cones and logs sit alongside more conventionally shaped wooden blocks. Cloths in plain, beautiful colours nestle on timber shelves amongst wooden animals and houses.
The outside play area is a veritable ‘kindergarten’, which translates as ‘children’s garden.’ It’s a place where the children may experience nature and the elements – plants, trees, animals, birds, weather, earth, air, water. So gumboots, raincoats and sunhats are standard dress on any given Melbourne day (and if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute!)
Children experience pets at kindergarten – observing and caring for their needs, watching insects and birds in the garden, climbing trees, picking flowers, caring for the garden, planting seeds, harvesting fruit and vegetables, eating them, observing the seasons, water, earth and sand play.
Daily rhythm is of vital importance to the young child. Imaginative play time is interspersed with formal activities such as painting, baking, drawing, craft and sewing. Each day includes a Morning Circle, and is punctuated with shared meals where the children come together to eat the food they have helped prepare, at beautifully set tables with hand made pottery. A blessing is always spoken or sung before the meal and a story is told each day.
After the younger children have gone, those who will stay settle into sleeping bags for quiet time and then share lunch and the afternoon’s renewed surge of energy and activity. This often includes a walk, indoor and outdoor play, cooking and building. Pack away is usually a flurry of happy activity leading to home time.
A typical kindergarten day includes indoor play and activities such as bread making, painting, handwork, drawing, modelling. Morning circle – including movement, song and verse, is followed by morning tea. Then outdoor play – which might include caring for ducks, rabbits or gardening – is followed by story time, and lunch. Outdoor play, a walk or cooking will be followed by afternoon tea followed by story/rhymes/finger plays.
Music is an integral part of kinder life. Children easily and joyfully respond to the singing voice and display the ability to follow a tune. Daily routines such as packing up, rolling out dough or digging a hole in the garden are often accompanied by simple melodies.
The natural environment and open ended play offer unlimited opportunities for learning. The children acquire life enhancing skills through following the daily ritual of shared life: food preparation, packing things away, preparing for a group task. They help with preparing food- cutting, grating, weighing, measuring. They experience the rising of bread dough and feel what it is to knead, developing dexterity and manipulation, along with eye-hand co ordination. Through group experiences and activity, such as sitting down to eat formally with others, they cultivate healthy social skills and the gentle art of conversation!
The adults within the kindergarten are conscious to undertake activity that is worthy of imitation, because children learn best by imitation and example.
The kindergarten is set up to allow for true self-directed play. The baskets of ‘open ended’ materials (irregularly shaped wood, cloths, etc) offer many possibilities, rather than a single fixed idea. Parents have been to known to gasp in unison at seeing a co-operatively built cubby house that spans the entire kinder space and uses every chair, table, cloth and building block within reach!
Once a week the children have artistic and therapeutic Eurythmy, brought to them by a trained Eurythmist. We observe that Eurythmy profoundly supports the children’s wellbeing, feelings and inner life.
Each day the children are told a story in the form of a fairy tale or something from nature. The stories are not chosen as entertainment, but for the deep values as well as psychological and spiritual truths they contain. The children are able to respond freely to the stories – which illuminate aspects of themselves and their lives – in their own imaginations.