The value of play-based kindergarten
Founded in 2000 by parents and teachers, Woodland Star is Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s Waldorf-inspired, K-8, charter public school.
Embracing the Waldorf instructional method, Woodland Star addresses the whole child, framing rigorous academics in an artistic, creative and multi-sensory curriculum. Our method follows a developmental model that respects the nature of children and how they best learn. One of the hallmarks of our program is our half-day, play-based kindergarten program. In the kindergarten, the teachers gently lead the child across the bridge from home to school, laying a strong, healthy foundation for the academic program that begins in first grade.
In a home-like environment, the kindergarten program is rich in singing, seasonal activities, circle, painting, puppetry and storytelling. The teachers believe it is profoundly important that the child have time to develop body, imagination and will in a secure setting. Free play with simple natural toys draws out the imagination. Shells, seeds and homemade dolls, wooden toys, beeswax crayons and modeling wax are familiar and loved playthings in the Woodland Star kindergarten.
Because the kindergarten child lives so deeply in the environment around him and imitates all he sees, the teacher strives to create an environment that mirrors back to the child the “good” and the “beautiful.” The teacher cultivates a reverence for nature and for caring relationships and good habits, laying a solid foundation for lifelong learning.
Within the framework of Waldorf-methods education, the kindergarten is structured to provide a gradual transition from the life of the home to the life of the elementary classroom. It is based upon the simple, yet profound concepts of imitation, repetition and creative play. Due to its unique two-year format, the Waldorf-methods kindergarten is appropriate for a mixed age group of children from early 5-year-olds to the pre-first grade 6-year-olds.
The Woodland Star kindergarten child will gradually become accustomed to working within a group, listening to stories, maintaining focus and attention, following directions, interacting with the teacher, and following a daily routine, while at the same time being aided in his or her development as an individual through the encouragement of creative play, healthy movement indoors and out, practical lifeskills and many artistic opportunities. All of these activities are carefully developed and guided by the teacher, who deeply understands the young child and his or her immersion in the world of movement, as well as the child’s devotion to learning about the world through imitating everything he or she experiences.
Core activities of the Waldorf-methods kindergarten (and the significance of each in relationship to lifelong learning) include:
Creative play time – The children are encouraged to imagine and play with a wide variety of adaptive toys and natural materials, following their own initiative. The ability to play creatively and to use one’s imagination as a child becomes, in the elementary years, the ability to think abstractly, i.e.: solving complicated math problems. Also, extended focus on the task or play at hand, and the ability to create and follow an activity through to completion, are extremely important in later schooling and through life.
Circle time –The class is brought together to recite verse, sing songs and play developmental games with the teacher. These are often connected with the season, a particular fairy tale or are just part of the general lore of childhood. Repeating and remembering verses and song sets lays a strong foundation for the more intense memory work to come in the grades ahead.
Artistic activity – Wet-on-wet watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, crayon drawing, as well as forms of handwork such as finger-knitting and sewing and wood working, are done as a group activity to encourage the child’s natural sense of beauty, color and form.
Snack time – Children help with all aspects of this shared mealtime, from preparing the food (always organic, including whole grains and homemade bread), and ironing napkins, to cleaning the dishes and tables.
Outdoor play – The group is taken outdoors to experience the natural world in all of its different seasons and later studies plants and animals, the weather, geology, astronomy and other natural sciences.
Story time – The children are gathered together to hear the teacher tell a special story. Stories are worked with over a long period of time so that the children may learn them well, and later act them out. The ability to listen to an adult for a sustained period of time is a skill that is gradually developed.
Directed academic activities are not emphasized in the Waldorf-methods kindergarten because the emphasis lies on the foundation skills and experiences mentioned above which provide an excellent preparation for the rigor of the Woodland Star grades curriculum.
Woodland Star will be offering a transitional kindergarten program in the fall of 2013, and applications are now being accepted. Children who turn 5 before Dec. 1, 2013, are eligible to apply, and applications can be found at: woodlandstarschool.org. The next school tour will be held on Wednesday, March 20, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. For more details go to ws.communitygrove.com/ or call 996-3849.
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Sheila Reilly is administrator of Woodland Star Charter School.