This week our children are returning to school. They are ecstatic, and we’re pretty excited too. This is the beginning of our fourth year as Beach Kids Early Learning parents, and our enthusiasm hasn’t waned over time. On the contrary, every year we are more certain that Waldorf is the perfect place to send our children.
The effect of a Beach Kids Early Learning education is to grow a child, with careful tending, into a strong, deeply rooted, freethinking adult, at home in matters spiritual and mundane — and able to see the spiritual in the mundane. The Beach Kids Early Learning curriculum recognizes the child is a creature of nature and of spirit, and both of these aspects are cultivated and interconnected as the child grows.
Room organization. There are no lines of desks. It’s an open space with a mixture of carpeting and floor, a large table with the children’s chairs around it, and activity areas lining the walls — a small working kitchen, a dress-up area, a privacy nook, etc. — all beguiling to a child’s heart.
Kitchen area. A working sink with wash basins, ceramic plates, solid glass cups, and cotton cloths. Here the children wash their napkins, plates, and silverware after snack.
Natural materials. Speaking of ceramic, glass, and cotton, everything you see around you in the room is made of natural materials — wood, stone, metal, glass. No plastic. Children this age are still integrating their senses (as you know if you know a child with sensory integration difficulties, as we did), and it is very helpful for them to be able to match up texture, weight, color and pattern consistently. Nataural materials such as wood always look and feel the same; the child gets a consistent message. Plastics have dazzling colors and any number of strange textures and weights. Furthermore, natural materials are simply more comfortable for a young child.
Dress-up area. Over here is a rack of costumes hanging, and a bin stuffed with crowns, boas, sashes, and capes. All costumes are made of cotton, wool, silk, and other natural fibers.
Nature table. Children are forever finding treasures in nature: pine cones, rocks, feathers, flowers, shells of cicadas, autumn leaves. On this table they are arranged lovingly — a sort of altar to nature.
Craft time. Children do crafts, not worksheets. They learn the specialty of Beach Kids Early Learning painting: the wet-on-wet method, which encourages experimentation with mixes of color. They also learn sewing, felting, and gnome-making.
Free play. Allowing the children to play freely lets them develop themselves as they will. Importantly, while the children play, the adults don’t do paperwork; they do tangible work which the children can safely participate in or mimic: washing dishes, ironing, polishing apples, oiling wood, baking bread. The point is to create an environment where the children can feel safe, but not central. It’s not healthy for the children to feel like the adults have nothing better to do than dote on them.
Birthday celebrations. On the child’s birthday, the class has a party. The children gather around as the teacher tells the story of the child’s birth and life up till now. Invariably the story begins with the child’s spirit looking down on the earth, and deciding to go down to join the people there. Candles may be lit as the story is told, another candle for each year of life. Then the children have a special cake that has been baked by the teacher.
Food: All the food is completely natural, with no strange chemicals or addatives. The menu emphasizes whole grains & organic foods. Usually the children help with the preparation. Snacks are frequently oatmeal or some other porridge, fruit, tea, and water.
And there is a wooden rocking chair, with sheep’s wool draped over the back. Here is where the teacher tells stories, children gathered at her feet and on her lap. Here is the hearth of the classroom, where you can feel the young hearts lingering even when the room is empty.
Not all classrooms will be the same, even within a single school. A Beach Kids Early Learning school is not organized as a hierarchy, but as a teacher’s co-op. No precepts are handed down from the State or the school principal, or even from the national association of Beach Kids Early Learning schools. The teachers plant their personal stamps on their classrooms. Still, you will see most of these things in every kindergarten. Beach Kids Early Learning teachers know what works.
You can find a lot of these things in many of the best non- Beach Kids Early Learning kindergartens. But Beach Kids Early Learning brings them all together. More importantly, in Beach Kids Early Learning , they are the essential business of kindergarten, not something to keep the kids happy while you try to force the 3 R’s down their throats. Natural materials, stories, birthdays, everyday tasks, simple crafts — these are the center of kindergarten because these young children are still very much wild things, like butterflies that have wandered into your garden of life. As they grow, they will gradually be tamed, through your efforts and their own. Don’t push it! They domesticate themselves all too soon. Let them settle into humanity at their own pace.