What Do Children Learn in a Waldorf Kindergarten? Everything! July 08 2015

The grandmother of the birthday child in the Waldorf Kindergarten was pleased to be invited to her granddaughter’s birthday celebration at the Waldorf kindergarten. She ended up more deeply moved and impressed as she participated in the birthday celebration. When she came to the kindergarten, mid-morning, she noticed the soft beautiful colors of the room and the natural wood finish of the tables and chairs. She also felt the busy hum of the room as children cleaned up after having made bread dough. The aroma of bread baking filled the room. Two children smiled at her and excitedly said, “It’s bread roll day for Michaela’s birthday!” The special guest for the big day was invited to sit in a special chair and watched as her granddaughter was led by two children, holding her hands, to the chair prepared for the child with a rose-colored silken cloth draped over it. Before the birthday child sat down in her chair, she was cloaked in a cape made of colored silk which tied under her chin. When she sat down she was crowned with a felted wool crown embellished with embroidered flowers.

            All the other children in the kindergarten gathered around the birthday child and sat on the carpet. The teacher lit a candle on a little stool and the birthday girl blew out the match. All became very quiet and the teacher began to tell the story of the birthday child’s life. The story told of the child’s birth, and then year-by-year the teacher told of things that happened as the child grew. Once the story caught up to the very day the kindergarten celebration, then the story was complete and the whole class knew many things about the child’s life they had not known before. The teacher gave the birthday girl a candlesnuffer and the child put out the candle.

            The teacher then gave the girl a gift: a magic wand made with a wooden handle and a felted wool star with ribbon streamers and many small beads stitched to the star at the end. The whole class then sang a birthday song for the child and she sat in her regal attire and beamed as they sang.

            The whole class then stood up and moved to sit around the large table. The table had already been set, with help from all the children in the kindergarten –– part of the work of the morning before the grandmother had come. Each place had a cotton napkin held by a wooden napkin ring, a spoon, and a china cup. The guest was impressed that real china cups would be trusted in the hands of so many little children. She also noticed a quiet care the children took of all the things on the table.

            The grandmother then sat down next to her granddaughter. Many children wanted to sit by the birthday girl and the teachers helped the children to sit down without any argument by asking different children to do tasks to prepare for their birthday meal together. One child filled each cup with warm tea poured from a pitcher. Children passed around a honey teddy bear to sweeten their tea. Each watched the others squeeze out honey into the little cups, waiting for a turn, just as they had waited for the child pouring the tea to complete her pouring. Again, the grandmother was amazed.

            When all the children had tea and were seated, the birthday girl once again helped the teacher light a candle on the table and blew out the match. The whole class sang a blessing for the meal: a song that included remembering those who had cooked, those who had served, the bees that gave honey, the farmer who grew the food, the earth and water and sun, the air that blew the food to ripening, the stars who smiled on the making of their food. Then a birthday song followed for the girl whose day it was, who sat shyly excited with shining eyes about the organized attention she was getting. She held her grandmother’s hand.

            Then the fresh-from-the-oven rolls came out in a large basket which one child carried around the table. This was followed by a big bowl of softened butter the teacher gave to the birthday girl and that was then passed around the table. Each child took a bread roll and then each child buttered the roll with lots or little butter. No on scolded about taking too much, or too little or none at all. The grandmother noted the trust and the freedom in this.  

            No one began eating until everyone was served. Once the last spread of butter was completed, everyone began. Particular invisible attention was focused on the guest grandmother, the children anticipating her reaction to their bread rolls, which was, as they had hoped, a swoon with the goodness of the bread and butter. Once all the children knew that the guest loved her roll, everyone set about eating with gusto. There was then some talk around the table but it was quiet talk. Children checked once in a while on the birthday girl and her grandmother to ensure they were eating and happy. The birthday child’s grandmother realized that with very ordinary fare, she experienced being at a feast in honor of her little granddaughter. As she ate she tried to remember a meal at which she felt so satisfied and she could not.

            The basket of rolls was passed around a second time and those who wanted more could have another roll with butter.

            When every child had eaten to fullness, another song was sung of thanks for the good food with a little added piece of the song to honor again the birthday girl.   When her song was completed the teacher gave her the candlesnuffer and all watched in silence while she snuffed the candle. She took her new magic wand, and, walking around the table, she began to touch the shoulder of each child with her new magic wand as she deigned them to be ready to get up to play or to do chores. Each child when chosen would take cup, spoon, and napkin to the sink and to the basket for the napkins. Four children began washing the dishes in a big tub filled with soapy water and to rinse them in another tub with clear water. The third and fourth children dried the dishes and put them clean on the shelves where they had a place the children clearly knew well. When the dishwashers were done one boy took a washcloth and wiped the table. He was conscientious and looked carefully to be sure the table was completely clean. He looked to the teacher, who nodded, and the boy was off to play with the other children who were already hard at play with cloths, blocks, capes and hats, logs, wooden structures to move around, all of natural things, the grandmother noticed –– no plastic, no shocking colors usually connected to early childhood.

            As chores were completed all the workers joined the rest of the class in playing in the kindergarten play area. When everyone was back together and had played for a little while, the birthday girl was led by a teacher to get her things on to go outside. She was allowed to be the first child in line. She wore her cape and her crown under her regular coat and hat.

            As the children went outside, the birthday girl said, “Good-bye” to her grandmother and skipped out happily to the play yard.

            The grandmother, when she returned home, called a friend and recounted all she had seen. She asked her friend, “Can you hear all the things the children learned in this one day of the birthday party? They learned to appreciate another child; to listen carefully to a story; to know the feel of cotton from their napkins, wood from their chairs and their napkin rings, china from their cups; to wait their turn, to pause before eating so that all can eat together; to see how beautiful the table looks all set with colors and fragrance from the baking bread; to remember to be grateful before eating; to remember to be grateful after eating; to help each other to clean up. The lessons go on and on,” the grandmother said, “It’s unbelievable! Who even tries to teach these things anymore?” Her friend responded,” It sounds as if they didn’t teach those things directly at all but on the way to other things, like a good, story, good food, a fine birthday party.”

            “That’s the thing, “ said the grandmother, “It’s not even teaching but the way the teachers prepare the whole event makes it feel so very worth it to wait for everyone and not just to dig in greedily but to register everyone’s reactions at the same time. It is an atmosphere or a mood almost that encourages the children to be enthusiastic about what they are doing. Then they want to do the right thing and they learn how fun it is to do the right thing. That’s such a huge lesson and yet they all do it! They do it every day! Can you realize how big that is? How many, many lessons there are in those things?”

            “Well your granddaughter is lucky to be in that school! Listen to us! There must be dozens of important lessons these youngsters will benefit from for their whole lives.”

            “That’s the truth, all right! Imagine if the world were full of adults who had learned these things for life in kindergarten. Wouldn’t that change the world! Magic, kindness, willingness would be everyday events!”

            There are in a child’s life many years for books and math and algorithms and science facts. There are very few years during which a little one can practice open-hearted kindness, sharing, consideration of others, building habits of making things beautiful, habits of appreciation for the abundance received in a meal. These practices done while young are likely to make an impression, build skills, cultivate inner quiet, and foster deep emotional intelligence and respect for everyone, to last a lifetime.

            All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten holds true! Waldorf kindergarten fosters not only habits of caring for the physical things, but also the habits of soul, of mood, of appreciation, of gratitude. In our modern world these inner habits take increasing concentration to cultivate and preserve in ourselves. How much easier it would be if it all began in kindergarten!