By Andrea Fiser, Pedagogical Support
It has been exactly one year since our school had its first shutdown, due to COVID.
So much thought and consideration went into planning to return safely this past August, and here we stand a year later, on the brink of another school year. We are in person with children and are carrying a full Waldorf curriculum with rhythm, reverence and beauty, all while working outside in nature. We are providing a space and experience that is protected from the fears and uncertainly of the world of today. What a gift for these young children.
Each spring semester, the Early Childhood (EC) teachers begin planning for the coming year. This year, as we looked toward the future of the EC program, we considered all that we have learned from the experience of teaching during the pandemic. While it is true that the world has changed, the needs of the young child remain consistent. In our conversations we identified parts of our program that had changed in response to COVID, and were positive. These are changes we see as healthy responses to some of the current challenges to childhood.
The program changes that will continue in the coming year include: siblings in the same class; smaller class sizes; no 2-day option; additional time outdoors; wider age-range, mixed-age classes.
Keeping Siblings Together: This impulse comes from our desire to build stronger relationships and continuity and to embrace simplicity for children and families.
Smaller Class Sizes: Smaller class sizes benefit the teacher/child relationship by allowing more one-on-one time and more time for observation of each child. Our classes will average 12 students and no more than 14.
Additional Time Outside: COVID Protocols indicated we would have a lower transmission rate if classes were outside in the fresh air. And we can see the great benefit this has had for the children in our program. Waldorf education has always promoted time in nature for the healthy development of children. As teachers, we speak about this quite often. In the past, our days were an equal balance between indoor and outdoor activities. Moving into the future we imagine leaning toward more of our day spent outside, in nature. There is a great amount of research to suggest that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development. More time outside also provides greater opportunities for large motor movement, another essential for the young child.
Mixed-Age Classes: In our coming year, we will not have separate Nursery and mixed-age Kindergarten classes, and will welcome children from ages 2-6. The practice of separating children by ages has pros and cons and has been a topic of great debate in the Waldorf Early Childhood movement for many years. As we seek to meet the children’s needs, based on our current times, we see the great benefit of a broader age range in each class. This model provides opportunities for the very youngest to learn from imitating the play of the older children, and provides the opportunity for the child who is in their true kindergarten (first grade ready) year to develop social emotional skills through care and consideration of their younger peers. This also supports continuity of care, an essential element of healthy development. The Waldorf EC curriculum is designed to be flexible and able to meet a broader age range. All of our teachers are trained for working with children from birth to 7 and have the capacities to meet a wide age range of children.
All of these changes were made with great care and consideration. We are looking ahead with joy and optimism as we begin to form our classes for the coming year.
“Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love
and send them forth in freedom” RS