In a home-like environment, children participate in the rhythms of the morning. We have periods of creative free play interspersed with stories, songs, and a circle time of creative movement with singing and speech. While the children play, the parents model appropriate activity, engaging in simple crafts and preparing a healthy snack. The parents also have an opportunity to discuss parenting topics such as the importance of rhythm and beauty in our children’s lives, the negative impact of the media on children, and creative ways to discipline our children.
The basic component of Shining Star Kindergarten’s curriculum is a safe, beautiful and loving home-like environment, in which the children’s warm and meaningful interactions with the teachers and each other provide a core of security. This core of security is the basis of all learning.
Young children learn about the world through imitation and example. The teacher inspired by Waldorf takes care that both environment and activities are worthy of creative imitation. Through a carefully unified program of alternating structured and unstructured activities, children pursue imaginative play and artistic activities, participate in the daily circle, listen to stories and puppet shows, experience nature, and celebrate multi-cultural holidays and festivals.
The activities are planned and designed to help the children as they develop their small muscles, their large muscles, their language, and their relationships with other children and adults. The rhythmical nature of the daily schedule and the engrossing, lyrical quality of the activities themselves form the basis for discipline in the kindergarten. Through the activities the teacher inspired by Waldorf also guides the students to develop social skills that involve cooperation and non-aggression. The circles, activities and celebrations follow a yearly rhythm based on the natural flow of the seasons.
Shining Star Kindergarten has created an environment in which children can keep intact the “magic” and “dreaminess” of childhood. The atmosphere is warm and home-like and filled with a sense of wonder. The classroom is set up to encourage imaginative play and give full reign to creative and individualistic expression. Simple toys and equipment of natural materials are provided to best stimulate the child’s sensitivity and imagination. They include blocks cut from trees, wooden toys (including a play kitchen and a boat), soft knit and cloth dolls and animals, fabric and dress-ups. These materials have been chosen to allow small and large motor skills to develop in an organic, holistic way.
Play is the basis of experiential learning. It satisfies children’s curiosity as they explore their environment and this brings pleasure. With pleasure comes the powerful drive to repeat the pleasurable activity. With repetition comes mastery. The more comfortable children feel with the world, the more likely they will explore, discover, master, and learn. In this way children are driven to interact with their world, to build a structure of knowledge through the “experiments” of play.
Using imaginative play the child explores the use of symbols, and this symbolic thinking forms the basis for later abstract and intellectual thinking. When a child pretends a stone is a hammer and builds a castle from pieces of wood and leaves, he/she is using symbolic thinking to transform items found in nature into a fantasy castle.
Social and interpersonal skills are developed during play for the children have to work together while creating for example a hospital scene with a doctor, nurse and patients. Play also requires children to make choices and often involves strategizing, or planning to reach a goal. This leads to problem solving and negotiating skills.
Play sharpens physical reflexes, builds strength and enhances balance and coordination. For example when a child climbs up a tree he/she needs to balance, coordinate the different parts of his/her body and hold on with all of his/her strength.
Play meets deep-seated emotional needs of young children. It enables them to make sense of the many aspects of the world that surrounds them. Studies have shown compelling evidence of a relationship between the lack of childhood play and later eruptions of violence.
Many different artistic activities take place in the Shining Star Kindergarten. They include the visual arts, music, creative drama, movement, and the so-called more “traditional” domestic arts. The visual arts include wet-on-wet watercolor painting, beeswax modeling, drawing with crayons and simple crafts (often with materials from nature). Music is found in the daily circle (singing and kinder lyre music) and throughout the day during transitions when singing accompanies preparing for and cleaning up from activities. The domestic arts include bread baking and handwork, such as sewing and finger knitting.
Artistic activities work at many different levels in young children. For example, children explore decision-making and problem solving as well as the creative process while developing control over a medium. The child’s fine motor skills are involved, especially hand and finger coordination and the strengthening of the large arm muscles, leading into later writing and thus reading skills.
Wet-on-wet watercolor painting is an excellent example of how artistic activities in the classroom work on the children in a three-fold way. It is an exploration of the medium, an adventure in color creation (for example, mixing blue and yellow paint together creates green), and involves discovering the energetic or emotional quality of color. It becomes an emotional expression for the children.
Circle and Story Time
Classical stories, fairy tales, puppet shows, verses, finger plays and circle games expose the children to rich language, develop listening skills, and help children recognize sounds in words and rhyming schemes in verses, all of which lay the basis for the understanding of phonics. Oral listening skills build language competence in grammar, memory, attention, and visualization. These are important skills in developing literacy. Oral storytelling and oral history provide an opportunity to tap the richness of cultural traditions outside the mainstream.
At Shining Star Kindergarten, rather than learning that involves only talking about nature, the children are able to explore nature for themselves first-hand. Having the opportunity to observe, explore, and discover in a natural setting gives children invaluable knowledge based on their own experiences. Also, understanding life cycles, comparing the possible uses of different soils and surfaces, discovering the complexity and uniqueness present in nature all create a foundation for later scientific discovery.
Young children are uniquely in harmony with seasonal changes. Seasonal songs and stories introduce different aspects of nature into the children’s imagination. Artistic and craft activities reinforce what is occurring in nature around the children, and the hands-on experience allows the children to observe for themselves and to actually encounter nature in all its glorious variety.
The children plant seasonal vegetables as well as grass and flowers. Gardening teaches children about seasons and how plants develop from seeds and bulbs. This forms a basis for biology and ecology in later academics. When children dig, hoe and rake they build strong muscles. Weeding teaches classification and sorting skills as well as developing fine motor skills.
Our outdoor area at the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston is quite large and shaded and has many different natural materials–dirt, grass, gravel, bark, leaves, trees and bamboo. Also, when children discover a frog or insect in the yard they learn about nature. Periodic nature walks in the Unitarian Fellowship’s adjacent large garden provide an opportunity to observe and discover the changes of the seasons in even more detail.
Indoors, the children have a nature table in the classroom, pertinent to the seasons. There are natural materials to use–shells, stones, and blocks cut from trees. Sometimes the children eat the vegetables that they plant.
Multicultural Holidays and Festival
Seasonal holidays and festivals form an important component of our curriculum. For many festivals the celebrations are low key, with a craft, special songs, or stories. However, a few holidays and festivals are celebrated on Fridays or weekends and parents as well as other family members are invited to join the festivities. Celebrating holidays together provides a way to build a community of parents, teachers, and children.