Waldorf preschool isn’t just two hours of playtime, three days a week. It’s an education preparing young children with the mathematic and scientific concepts they will rely on throughout their education.
Waldorf early childhood programs are full of beauty— a truly peaceful environment for children — but underneath everything you see on the surface, Rudolf Steiner developed fundamental characteristics that lay a solid foundation for future learning. Steiner fully intended for his education approach to uphold the dignity of childhood by understanding human development and taking into consideration age-specific developmental needs.
LITTLE SCIENTISTS DEVELOP DURING PLAY
Children at play embody a true sense of wonder about everything. There is magic underneath every rock and in the splash of every mud puddle. The questions of “what if” are foundational to kid’s actions during play. What will happen if I throw this rock in the water? Why are worms crawling in the dirt? Why do these seeds stick to my clothes? All of these questions play out in the wonderful imagination of children creating the future scientific discovery. Rainer Patzlaff, Professor of Childhood Education, says: “If we observe carefully, child’s play is revealed to be excellent unconscious preparation for future education in mathematics and natural sciences, provided this play can proceed freely, and without an adult agenda.”
SO WHAT ABOUT THE MATH?
While children are playing, math is all around them. Counting. Classifying. Measuring. Identifying patterns. It may seem hard to believe, but each of these play-related activities is preparing children for learning basic math skills, fractions, pre-algebra and even geometry. One of the most important lessons children are learning at this stage is one-to-one correspondence—the concept of one shoe goes on one foot and one napkin on one placemat. The early childhood education designed by Steiner gives each of these mathematic skills a prominent place in daily activities, and early childhood teachers work to develop these skills in the children.
BUT THEY REALLY LEARN SCIENCE?
Every moment spent outdoors investigating plants and animals, every moment spent reciting verses and singing songs about the changing seasons and every moment spent moving logs, stumps and sticks is the foundation for studying science. Life Science. Earth Science. Physical Science. Early childhood classes are replete with opportunities to provide neurological foundations for the young children to be successful in the sciences. Carol Marxen, an education professor at the University of Minnesota, says: “Children, like scientists, are theory builders. When children are allowed to construct knowledge by acting on their environment, they expand their understanding, which in turn contributes to their intellectual development.”
EDUCATION AS A FOUNDATION
When parents drop their children off at a preschool class, they expect more than just structured play time and a healthy snack. They want their young children to be prepared for the rigors of the educational career that lies ahead. Within the peace and the beauty of a Waldorf early childhood education classroom is a deep academic undercurrent. Patzlaff says, “The connections and associations that the child experiences through play, through experiments with the play materials . . . this builds the foundation for the exacting, mathematical and scientific thinking and understanding in later life”. With the gentle leadership of each early childhood teacher these dear children are prepared for and guided by a love of learning, even at an early age.